Sinclair Challenges Media Ownership

Sinclair Broadcasting has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to review a previous judgment by a lower court on media ownership rules.

Sinclair's arguments are three-fold; the broadcaster is asking the high court to determine whether the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit mistakenly overruled the D.C. Circuit by instructing the FCC to continue enforcing the eight-voices test; whether the Third Circuit is in conflict with the Telecommunications Act of 1996--which requires the FCC to eliminate unnecessary rules; and whether the court contradicts free-speech rights of TV stations while not imposing the same restrictions on cable, satellite and Internet companies.

In June 2004, the Third Circuit decided that the FCC should keep enforcing the eight-voices test, which means that at least eight independently-owned and -operated full power TV stations remain in a designated market area after a proposal for consolidation is made.

The Hunt Valley, Md.-based broadcaster argued that this ruling hurts its ability to compete with other big markets and negates a previous rewrite of the ruling by the FCC that would have relaxed media ownership restrictions.

In 2002, Sinclair brought a suit to the D.C. Circuit Court of appeals, against the eight-voices test and the court ordered the FCC to justify the "test" or eliminate it. The commission was unable to justify the test but said that "it is not necessary in the public interest to promote competition;" yet in June 2004, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ordered the FCC to continue using the eight-voices test.

Meanwhile, public interest groups and law firms including the Washington, D.C.-based Media Access Project (MAP) have been fighting against media consolidation and promoting media diversity. MAP supports the 1945 Supreme Court declaration that "the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society."

Sinclair currently provides sales services to 62 stations in 39 markets, including Fox, WB, ABC, CBS, NBC and UPN affiliates.