A federal appeals court has restored a long-standing ban that prevents media companies from owning a newspaper and a television station in the same market.
WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court has restored a long-standing ban that prevents media companies from owning a newspaper and a television station in the same market.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said Thursday that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) didn’t give the public adequate opportunity to comment on new rules that lifted the ban in the 20 largest media markets. The appeals court sent the rules back to the FCC to be rewritten.
The so-called cross-ownership ban dates to 1975, when newspapers dominated the media industry. In 2007, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Bush administration appointee, moved to ease those restrictions in the biggest media markets. He argued that the ban no longer made sense in a media landscape where the Internet had left many daily newspapers struggling for survival.
Public-interest groups challenged the changes and warned that too many media outlets falling under the ownership of a handful of large corporations could be detrimental to democracy, which relies on a vibrant press with many voices.
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Andrew Jay Schwartzman, head of the nonprofit law firm Media Access Project, which led the challenge, hailed Thursday’s ruling.
“We’re extremely pleased that the court recognized that the public has a right to a diverse media environment,” he said.
Michael Copps, a Democrat on the FCC and a vocal critic of media consolidation, called the ruling “a huge victory for the millions of Americans who have gone on record demanding a richer and more diverse media.”
The decision is a setback for media conglomerates, which argue that consumers have more sources of information than ever in an age of 24-hour cable television and an endless supply of online news outlets.
“We’re back to a regulatory scheme from 1975 in spite of the most enormous explosion in communications and competition in the history of man,” said John Sturm, president and chief executive of the Newspaper Association of America.
Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said that “with the future of newspapers under threat, it seems hard to justify the continuation of a rule barring a newspaper-broadcast combination.”
The FCC’s media-ownership rules, which exist to ensure that communities have choices for local news, include limits on the number of television and radio stations that one company can own in a market and cross-ownership restrictions. Holdings in some markets, such as Atlanta, where Cox Media Group owns WSB-TV and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, are grandfathered in.
Congress requires the FCC to review its media-ownership rules every four years. Thursday’s ruling comes as the current FCC, now under Democratic control, is seeking to wrap up its latest review, which began last year.
The FCC said Thursday that the current review will allow it to take “appropriate steps to ensure that the nation’s media marketplace remains healthy and vibrant.”