WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Friday rejected challenges to the Federal Communication Commission’s U.S. media-ownership rules, longtime limits on cross-ownership of a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in a single market
The justices refused to hear appeals by Media General Inc, by broadcast and newspaper groups and by a broadcasting trade group arguing that the Supreme Court should reconsider past precedents that broadcast “scarcity” justified the ownership restrictions under the Constitution’s First Amendment.
At issue before the Supreme Court was the FCC’s loosening of some of its rules in 2008. Media owners challenged the rules on the grounds the FCC failed to go far enough to lift ownership caps.
A U.S. appeals court based in Philadelphia a year ago left most of the 2008 order intact, along with the FCC’s authority to preserve media competition. That was a setback for proponents of fewer ownership restrictions, such as the National Association of Broadcasters.
The association appealed to the Supreme Court. The FCC opposed the appeal, saying the appeals court correctly upheld the local television ownership rule implementing a long-standing policy of limiting the number of licenses in a local market that a single entity may own or control.
The FCC narrowly approved a loosening of its three-decade-old restrictions on ownership of a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the 20 biggest U.S. cities.
A number of broadcast and newspaper groups separately appealed to the Supreme Court. They included the Tribune Co, News Corp’s Fox television, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Clear Channel Communications Inc and the Newspaper Association of America.
They argued that the so-called “scarcity doctrine” involving the broadcast industry dating back to a 1969 Supreme Court decision should be overruled, invalidating the FCC’s media ownership rules.
The appellants said continued restriction on cross-ownership in the same market is unconstitutional because it singled out newspapers among all forms of mass communication for unequal treatment.
Media General filed a separate Supreme Court appeal making similar arguments.
The appeals court upheld the FCC’s rules limiting the number of television stations and radio stations a company can own in a market, depending on market size and other factors.
Broadcasters argued that the competitive landscape has vastly changed since the FCC ownership rules were adopted decades ago, due to competition from cable and satellite-delivered services.
The three appeals had been held by the Supreme Court, pending its decision on the FCC’s separate indecency crackdown on broadcast profanity and nudity. The court ruled narrowly and unanimously against the FCC on that issue June 21.
The justices did not reach the argument by the television networks that the media landscape has changed dramatically over the past 30 years and the court as a result should overturn its 1978 ruling upholding the FCC’s power over broadcast indecency.
The Supreme Court denied the appeals on the media ownership rules without any comment, leaving in place the appeals court ruling for the FCC.
The Supreme Court cases are Media General v. FCC, No. 11-691, Tribune Co v. FCC, No. 11-696, and National Association of Broadcasters v. FCC, No. 11-698.
Reporting by James Vicini and Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Dan Grebler