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Media companies appeal FCC ownership rules

The parent companies of CBS, NBC and FOX, as well as the Chicago-based Tribune and Gannett are among the media conglomerates who asked the Supreme Court to restore the FCC’S new media ownership rules.

The companies contend that rules easing ownership restrictions are necessary because the old regulations hamper their ability to grow and compete in a market that now includes cable television, satellite broadcasting and the Internet.

Last June, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia struck down the rules change.

The Newspaper Association of America filed its appeal last Monday. The NAB, Belo, and Morris Communications also filed, the Associated Press reported.

Supporters of the new rules acknowledge they were dealt a setback last week after the Justice Department, in consultation with the FCC, decided not to file its own appeal. The Bush administration did not explain its decision.

The Supreme Court would be more likely to hear the appeal if the government was involved, said Howard Liberman, a former FCC attorney who represents broadcasters but is not involved in the case.

In 2003, the FCC completed two years of review and voted 3-2 to ease ownership restrictions. The changes would have allowed a single company to own TV stations and a newspaper in the same area, and to own more TV and radio stations in a single market. Critics, including many in Congress, said that would encourage mergers and stifle diversity in news and entertainment.

The appeals court blocked the changes, writing that the FCC “has not sufficiently justified its particular chosen numerical limits for local television ownership, local radio ownership, or cross-ownership of media within local markets.”

John Sturm, president of the newspaper association, said the FCC rule changes “were based on solid evidence that repealing the outdated rules will greatly serve the public interest”

FCC officials said they are unsure how to proceed in part because of the media appeals. Moreover, FCC Chairman Michael Powell is leaving in March and his successor will have wide sway over the issue.

If the appeals fail, the FCC could submit new rules for the court’s approval or it could pose new arguments in an effort to win favor with the appeals court.

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