FCC Faces Lobbyist Lawsuit Over Media Rules

31 July 2003

Still smarting from last week’s crushing defeat in Congress, the Federal Communications Commission now faces court action over its controversial media law reform.

Powerful lobby group the National Association of Broadcasters plans to sue the FCC in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia over the shake-up in ownership law.

The move follows the House of Representatives’ overwhelming approval of legislation preventing the watchdog from raising the TV ownership cap from 35% of national reach to 45%.

However, this particular reform is not part of the NAB’s suit. The body is going to court to fight a ban on mergers between the top four TV stations in a single area and a change in the definitions of radio markets.

The NAB believes outlawing mergers between a region’s leading TV quartet effectively prevents any purchases in smaller areas, even though the FCC has agreed that some combinations of this sort may be allowed after a case-by-case review.

The radio market alterations opposed by the lobby group were introduced to remove anomalies that have allowed several local monopolies. The NAB argues this outcome would have been better achieved through correction of the markets affected rather than through a wholesale reform. “It places a tremendous burden on broadcasters who have based their business model on rules that were in place for seven years,” it claimed.

The NAB – dominated by network affiliates – has shown ambivalent attitudes towards the FCC reforms. Concerned at the raising of the TV ownership bar, it initially backed legislation to restore existing limits. But it performed a speedy U-turn after these bills threatened to prevent greater cross-media ownership in local markets [WAMN: 11-Jul-03].

• Meanwhile, congressional opposition to the FCC measures – pushed through by the agency’s three-strong Republican majority early last month [WAMN: 03-Jun-03] – continues to grow.

Senator Byron Dorgan (Democrat, North Dakota) confirmed he plans to introduce a rarely used “resolution of disapproval” to overturn the reforms.

He expects a vote on the resolution in September and claims to have secured enough support in the Senate to gain approval. It would then pass to the House, where – despite last week’s vote – success is far from certain.

Data sourced from: MediaWeek.com; additional content by WARC staff