Supreme Court stymies media titans

The top court refused to get invovled in the long-simmering controversy over media ownership rules, halting for now efforts toward further consolidation.

By Eric Boehlert
Published June 13, 2005 7:54PM (EDT)

Suffering yet another setback, Viacom, News Corp., Gannett, NBC and Clear Channel watched today as the Supreme Court rejected the major media companies' bid to clear the way for a dramatic easing of ownership limits. The Court, without comment, refused to get involved in the long-simmering dispute over media ownership. With the Court's refusal to act, the question of consolidation goes back to where it started; to the Federal Communications Commission, which four years ago under the Bush administration signaled its strong desire to free major media companies from ownership restrictions.

That FCC push, spearheaded by then-chairman Micahel Powell, ran into fierce grassroots opposition, which translated into an unusual bipartisan coalition of politicians who also opposed granting media companies almost limitless access to cross-ownership possibilities. In June 2003, Powell pushed though a partisan 3-2 vote among the FCC commissioners. But in June 2004, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the FCC's directive, telling Powell that the FCC had to do a much better job of explaining its rationale for wanting to do away with a decade's worth of ownership regulations. The court found fault with both the logic and the evidence presented by the FCC.

Major media companies, eager to gobble up newspapers, television stations and radio outlets in the same markets, had hoped the Supreme Court would step in now.

"The rejection is a victory for consumer groups, which say the ownership limits help ensure diversity of local news and programming," reports Bloomberg News. "For media companies, the high court appeal was 'the one way out of the box that they're in right now on ownership,' said Stanford Washington Research analyst Paul Gallant. 'The chances of the FCC significantly relaxing the ownership rules are fairly low.'"

While the decision is "good news" for consumers, "the battle over media ownership is far from over," warns Gene Kimmelman, senior director of Public Policy for Consumers Union. "We must remain vigilant to ensure efforts to allow a few companies to dominate the major sources of local news and information dont succeed. We are extremely hopeful the new FCC chairman will revisit these issues with a better understanding of how important a diverse and independent local media is to a community.

Eric Boehlert

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

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