A federal appeals court has restored a longstanding ban that prevents media companies from owning both a newspaper and a television station in the same market.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said Thursday that the Federal Communications Commission didn't give the public adequate opportunity to comment on new rules that lifted the ban in the 20 largest media markets. The appeals court sent the rules back to the FCC to be rewritten.
The so-called cross-ownership ban dates back to 1975 — a time when newspapers dominated the media industry. In 2007, then-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Bush administration appointee, moved to ease those restrictions in the biggest media markets. He argued that the ban no longer made sense in a media landscape that had been upended by the Internet and had left many daily newspapers struggling for survival.
Public interest groups challenged Martin's move and warned that too much consolidation would lead to less diversity in news coverage.
Andrew Jay Schwartzman, head of the nonprofit law firm Media Access Project, which led the challenge, hailed Thursday's ruling. "We're extremely pleased that the court recognized that the public has a right to a diverse media environment," he said.
Congress requires the FCC to review its media-ownership rules every four years. Those rules include the cross-ownership restrictions and limits on the number of television and radio stations that one company can own in a market. Thursday's ruling comes as the current FCC, now under Democratic control, is seeking to wrap up its latest review, which began last year.
In a statement Thursday, the FCC said the current review will allow it to take "appropriate steps to ensure that the nation's media marketplace remains healthy and vibrant."