April 1, 2021
Today, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Federal Communications Commission may allow one broadcast media group owner to have 2 network TV stations, plus 1-2 additional non-network stations, plus 8 radio stations AND the local newspaper - all in the same town.
In the opinion issued by Justice Kavanaugh, the court said the "FCC considered the record evidence and reasonably concluded that the three ownership rules at issue were no longer necessary to serve the agency’s public interest goals ..."
Prometheus Radio had argued that the FCC was relying on flawed or non-existent data to make that assessment. Kavanaugh wrote that "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."
Cheryl Leanza, co-counsel in the case and the United Church of Christ's media justice policy advisor writes, "The sparse record is the FCC's own fault. Any analysis of this question must rely on the FCC's data and yet the FCC has long permitted broadcast licensees to avoid filing their ownership data with impunity."
This is the very reason Media Action Center performed its own study on the issue: there was no data whatsoever available about the existing impact of these rule changes. The FCC used to commission its own studies on local broadcasting. In 2002, the FCC issued its own report called "Broadcast Television: Survivor in a Sea of Competition" which showed local TV stations in large markets were making as much as 46% profits. Now the FCC puts out obscure "Notice of Prospective Rulemaking" calls for consumers and largely underfunded non-profit groups to provide their own research to counter that which is provided to the FCC by well heeled industry leaders.
In our Amicus Brief in this case, we proved that in local communities where the FCC has already allowed such rules to take effect, local broadcasters are merely duplicating news content across 2-3 local TV stations, not providing more news as they promised the FCC, but effectively less.
Says Director Sue Wilson, "I am told that the proper place to have presented that information was to the FCC in its rulemaking process, and that the Supreme Court does not engage in fact-finding missions. I regret that obscure rulemaking call escaped my attention, but the fact still remains that the FCC allowing one broadcast group to control virtually all the local information provided to a single local community is a direct threat to our democracy."