Setback for Big Media

A court of appeals rules that the FCC's attempt to allow further consolidation by giant companies like Viacom and Time Warner is illogical -- pleasing a curious coalition of liberals and conservatives.

Topics:

Big Media’s expansion plans have been put on hold, at least for now. In an at-times sharply worded ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit on Thursday overturned the Federal Communications Commission’s attempt last June to dramatically loosen the rules of media ownership. Delivering an embarrassing rebuke to FCC Chairman Michael Powell, the court essentially took the centerpiece of Powell’s policy initiative — media consolidation — and threw it back into the commission’s lap, telling Powell the FCC had to do a much better job of explaining its rationale for wanting to do away with decades worth of ownership regulations. The court found fault with both the logic and the evidence presented by the FCC.

“The Commission falls short of its obligation to justify its decisions to retain, repeal or modify its media ownership regulations with reasoned analysis,” the appeals court in Philadelphia ruled. The decision, coming on the heels of Tuesday’s bipartisan vote in the Senate to repeal those same FCC media ownership rules if necessary, highlights how opposition to media consolidation continues to mushroom.

“The ruling is an absolute repudiation of Chairman Powell’s theory that allowing large media companies to dominate the most important sources of local news and information is appropriate public policy,” says Gene Kimmelman, senior public policy director for the Consumers Union, one of the petitioners in the court case.

In an angry response to the court’s decision, Powell insisted Thursday that it “perversely may make it dramatically more difficult for the commission to protect against greater media consolidation. This is deeply troubling and hampers the flexibility of the agency to protect the American public, as this agency is charged to do.”

The ruling represents a clear setback for media giants that are anxious to expand, such as NBC, Viacom, Clear Channel and News Corps. But the ruling is also bad news for the White House. Early in this administration the White House vigorously supported loosening media ownership rules (and even more so supported the FCC chairman who championed them). In recent months, however, as bipartisan opposition to the FCC’s media rules has grown, the White House, reportedly upset about the political capital being spent over an issue that was thought to have been put to bed a year ago, has had little to say publicly on the matter. By contrast, presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry has been speaking out about the dangers posed by increased media consolidation. And a poll last year by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that just 10 percent of Americans viewed further media consolidation positively.

Instead, opposition to media consolidation has emerged over the past year as a broad-based populist issue, with a curious coalition of liberal and conservative groups –from the National Rifle Association to MoveOn.org — joining to aggressively oppose the suggested rule changes. The consensus on the issue became so wide ranging that conservative New York Times columnist William Safire, who warned the Bush White House that pushing a media-consolidation agenda could come back to haunt it in the upcoming presidential election, and former President Bill Clinton, who penned an op-ed for the New York Daily News urging that the FCC’s move be overturned, found themselves on the same page.

You Might Also Like

The court’s finding on Thursday highlights what critics had been suggesting all along: that the FCC failed to do its legal homework — and therefore the explanation it presented for the need to allow radical consolidation by the country’s largest media players did not stand up to scrutiny. Critics also complained that the commission’s interests were driven more by marketplace ideology than by the country’s existing communications laws. Specifically, the court rejected the FCC’s assertion that the 1996 Telecommunications Act required the FCC to gradually loosen ownership rules unless evidence could be shown to warrant keeping them in place. The court agreed with FCC critics who insist that the Telecommunications Act requires the opposite: that media ownership rules remain in place unless sufficient evidence is presented that they need to be loosened.

Eager to create new economic efficiencies, media companies such as Viacom, Time Warner and the Tribune Co. have been pressing the FCC for years to relax limits on cross-ownership, such as controlling TV stations and newspapers in the same city. Last June, in a 3-2 vote split along party lines, FCC commissioners voted to allow one corporation to own both the top newspaper and up to three television stations, along with eight radio stations, in the same city in most U.S. markets. They also voted to allow broadcast networks such as Fox and NBC to buy more local television stations nationwide, enabling the networks to reach 45 percent of the national audience, up from the then national cap of 35 percent.

Thursday’s appellate court ruling rejected the FCC’s decision to allow greater ownership of television and radio stations in the same market. However, the court ruled that the FCC does have the power to lift the prohibition on a company’s owning both a newspaper and a television station in the same city. Also, Congress had already passed legislation, signed into law by Bush, that lifted the broadcast cap, but only to 39 percent, instead of the FCC’s proposed 45 percent.

Powell and FCC lawyers will soon decide their next move. Kimmelman says the sooner the FCC’s rationale for changes in media ownership rules is discarded, the better: “Hopefully we’ll never see anything as crazy and ideologically driven from the FCC in the future.”

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>