Ownership Caps Stayed at 35 Percent

Just three months after the Federal Communications Commission issued its relaxed media-ownership rules, the courts put them on hold. The 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia stayed the rules on Wednesday, just hours before they would have gone into effect and allowed a single company to reach 45 percent of the national audience.

Despite the Court's decision, contention over the rules continued in Washington, D.C. The day before the Court's decision Republican pollster Frank Luntz plastered Capitol Hill with a survey of 700 people, of whom 11 percent said network ownership of their local station would be a "bad" thing. Ownership rules, Luntz concluded, "fall squarely on the opposite side of public opinion."

Opponents of the new rules hailed the Court's decision as a victory, even though the three-judge panel simply wanted more time to fact-find.

"The Court would not have taken such extreme action unless highly suspicious of the FCC's rationale for relaxing media ownership rules," read a statement from Gene Kimmelman, Washington director of the Consumer Union. His group along with the Consumer Federation of America also filed a petition with the commission this week to rewrite the media rules, arguing that the FCC's justification for changing the rules were based on "complicated and inconsistent analytical measures that were not open to public comment."

A spending bill containing a rider that would reinstate the 35-percent cap went to the Senate Appropriations Committee today for mark-up. Earlier in the day, Sen. Byron Dorgan, (D-S.D.), a member of the committee who vociferously opposes the new rules, said on C-SPAN that he expected to bring a resolution of disapproval to the Senate floor as early as next week. Such a resolution would throw out all of the FCC's new ownership rules.

An FCC spokesman said that the commission was "disappointed" by the decision but added that they would "vigorously defend them and look forward to a decision by the court on the merits."