Supreme Court Sides With FCC, Allows Loosening of Media Ownership Rules

The decision could lead to a massive wave of consolidation among local media

Last Updated: April 1, 2021 @ 8:34 AM

The FCC scored a big win on Thursday as the Supreme Court decided, in a unanimous decision, that the regulatory body was well within its rights to loosen restrictions regarding media ownership rules.

The result could have a far-reaching impact on one of the oldest businesses in the TV industry.

In 2017, the FCC, led by Trump-appointed chairman Ajit Pai, proposed changes that would strike down the “Eight Voices Rule,” a ban on in-market consolidation of stations if the result would lead to fewer than eight independently owned stations Additionally, the FCC voted to remove a 45-year-old rule that bars one company from owning a TV station and newspaper within the same market (although a few exceptions have been made), along with restrictions on local media advertising.

The FCC’s changes were overturned last year by the Philadelphia-based Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which essentially told the agency to try again, finding the commission “did not adequately consider the effect its sweeping rule changes will have on ownership of broadcast media by women and racial minorities.”

The Supreme Court said on Thursday that the FCC doesn’t need empirical data to justify its decision.

“In challenging the FCC’s order, Prometheus argues that the Commission’s assessment of the likely impact of the rule changes on minority and female ownership rested on flawed data,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the decision. “But the FCC acknowledged the gaps in the data sets it relied on, and noted that, despite its repeated requests for additional data, it had received no countervailing evidence suggesting that changing the three ownership rules was likely to harm minority and female ownership.”