The Federal Communications Commission told an appeals court it has the legal right to alter US media ownership law.

In a 126-page filing lodged with the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, the FCC defended the legality of its controversial media reforms, passed by the regulator's Republican majority in June [WAMN: 03-Jun-03].

The court issued an order in September that prevented the FCC from implementing its new ownership regime until litigation against it had concluded [WAMN: 04-Sep-03]. Several lobby groups filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the reforms, which they saw as unfairly favourable to big media corporations.

However, the FCC insists it has a legal right to draw up new ownership law. "The Supreme Court has emphasized time and again that the Commission's power to adopt and revise broadcast ownership rules in the public interest is both wide-ranging and flexible," it told the court.

The filing added that the FCC had proposed the new regulations "to take account of developments in the media marketplace, including the significant increase in the number of broadcast outlets and the advent of competing video programming providers."

The change that caused most uproar was the raising of the TV ownership cap from 35% of national reach to 45%. After a long-running battle by Congress to restore the old limit, the White House won a compromise of 39% -- a level that does not require big media firms to shed any of their assets acquired in a recent outbreak of gun-jumping [WAMN: 25-Nov-03].

But the FCC proposed plenty of other changes to media law, such as allowing a company to own a broadcaster and a newspaper in the same city. Whatever happens in the courtroom, many of these lower-profile laws may be challenged in Congress in the new year.

Data sourced from: Washington Post Online; additional content by WARC staff