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Supreme Court Allows FCC to Move Forward With Changes to Media Ownership Rules


The decision is a major victory for the FCC and overturns a finding from the Third Circuit that the agency did not adequately consider the effects of women and minorities on media outlet ownership. The Federal Communications Commission was within its rights to ease restrictions regarding media outlet ownership, the US Supreme Court has held, and it does not require empirical data to justify its decision.

The FCC’s ownership rules limit the number of radio stations, TV stations, and newspapers that an entity can own in any single market. It is obliged to review these rules every four years and to cancel or amend any result that is “not necessary in the public interest as a result of competition.”

In 2017, under the then chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC decided that three of its rules were no longer necessary and that long restrictions prohibiting the ownership of dailies and TV stations in any market had been lifted, which included radio stations. And limits the number of TV stations. It may be owned, and at least eight independently owned local TV stations may be required before a company can own two stations.


It was determined that none of these changes would harm minority or female ownership of media outlets. The Prometheus Radio Project and other advocacy groups challenged the changes, arguing that the decision was arbitrary and intimidating under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

In September 2019, the 3 Circuit vacated the FCC’s order and found that it “did not consider broadly that its broad rule changes would be on the ownership of broadcast media by women and racial minorities.”

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued its opinion on the case, a unanimous ruling given by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which overturns the ruling of the Third Circuit. “The FCC adopted those rules in an early-cable and pre-Internet era when media sources were more limited,” Kavanaugh writes, noting that the FCC has been trying for decades to change these rules and the Third Circuit has Has repeatedly rejected them. A p a.

This time, the appeals court “did not dispute the FCC’s conclusion that those three ownership rules no longer promoted the agency’s public interest goals of competition, localism, and approach diversity. But the court considered that the record provided the FCC’s conclusion. Not supported. The rule change will have the ‘least impact’ on minority and female ownership.

The Supreme Court found that the agency should only act “within the scope of the argument” and clarify its decision in order to meet the arbitrary and capitory standard of the APA. Prometheus argued that the FCC’s data was too simplistic and the agency acknowledged that there were gaps, but Kavanaugh points out that his idea of ​​available records justified his decision that the old rules did not help competition or consumers in the modern market.


“Certainly, the FCC did not have the right empirical and statistical data to assess the effects on minority and female ownership. Far from it,” Kavanaugh writes. “But it is not uncommon in the day for a decision-making agency within the executive branch. The APA does not impose any general obligation on agencies to conduct or commission their own empirical or statistical studies.”

For example, it may specifically encourage the Brittain administration because it makes regulatory changes in relation to climate change. A brief opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas stated that the FCC had no obligation to consider minority or female ownership in the first place. The fact that it was a part of the conversation in relation to these changes, he argues, was the result of the judged processes back in 2004.

The FCC’s focus is encouraging approach diversity for the benefit of consumers, they argue, not ownership diversity for the benefit of producers.

“Here, like 2003, once the FCC determined that any of its policy objectives for ownership rules – approach diversity, competition, and locality – it is not appropriate to maintain its own rules, revising them without considering the FCC ownership diversity Or was free to repeal, ”Thomas writes.


“In fact, the FCC has long been clear that ‘it would be inappropriate to maintain multiple ownership rules for the sole purpose of promoting minority ownership.’ The Third Circuit had no authority to require the FCC to consider minority and female ownership. Therefore in future reviews, the FCC is not obliged to do so. ”

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