Broadcasters are urging the Supreme Court to loosen restrictions that prevent companies from owning newspapers, radio stations and television stations in the same market.
In a petition filed Monday, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) argues that the court must overturn a Third Circuit decision from last July that left most of the Federal Communications Commission's media ownership regulations intact.
The NAB argues that rather than resulting in dangerous monopolies, allowing broadcasters to own multiple news organs helps them improve their financial health. That in turn gives them the flexibility to invest in higher quality reporting.
“By harming local television stations all over the country, the duopoly rule also directly harms the public,” the petition reads. “When a station struggles financially or ceases to operate, it loses its ability to provide the news and public affairs programming on which members of the public rely. But placing stations under common ownership, resulting in an improvement in financial stability, leads to improved local programming – both in quality and in quantity – of the kind that is critical to viewers.”
Furthermore, the petition says the Third Circuit’s decision conflicts with lower court opinions related to broadcast media ownership rules, and asks the court to intervene so it can clarify the regulations.
The court didn't make its judgment on the merits of the case but said the FCC didn't follow the proper procedure when it changed its rules. Before it can change its rules, the FCC is required to seek public input; the court said the FCC didn't properly get that input.
Previously, a D.C. Circuit Court found that the rules were unnecessary.
The NAB petition argues that the Third Circuit was adjudicating based on an outdated conception of local media. It points out that broadcasters and newspapers compete for audiences and advertising with cable companies, satellite companies and internet sites, not just each other.
“Instead of counting only broadcast television stations, the Commission should have considered all outlets that compete for advertising and audiences in local markets,” the petition reads.
The move comes as the FCC appears to be in favor of dialing back at least some of the rules.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is reportedly in favor of loosening ownership rules in top media markets. However, some regulations would remain in place. For example, the commission would continue to limit the number of channels a company could control in local markets and would keep some bans on newspapers and television station cross ownership in place.