Media Groups Appeal Ownership Rule

A newspaper trade group on Monday joined Tribune Co. and the parent companies of CBS, Fox and NBC in asking the Supreme Court to restore the government's media ownership rules, which have been thrown out by a lower court.

The groups contend the Federal Communications Commission (search) rules easing ownership restrictions are necessary because the old regulations hamper companies' ability to grow and compete in a market that now includes cable television, satellite broadcasting and the Internet.

Last June, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) in Philadelphia struck down the rules change.

The Newspaper Association of America (search) filed its appeal Monday, the deadline for appeals. The appeal was also filed by three other media companies: Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper publisher; Belo Corp.; and Morris Communications Co.

Tribune and the networks filed late Friday night, said Clark Wadlow, an attorney for the companies.

Supporters of the new rules acknowledge they were dealt a setback last week after the Justice Department, in consultation with the FCC, decided not to file its own appeal. The Bush administration did not explain its decision.

The Supreme Court would be more likely to hear the appeal if the government was involved, said Howard Liberman, a former FCC attorney who represents broadcasters but is not involved in the case.

In 2003 the Republican-dominated FCC completed two years of review and voted 3-2 along party lines to ease ownership restrictions.

The changes would have allowed a single company to own TV stations and a newspaper in the same area, and to own more TV and radio stations in a single market. Critics, including many in Congress, said that would encourage mergers and stifle diversity in news and entertainment.

The appeals court blocked the changes, writing that the FCC "has not sufficiently justified its particular chosen numerical limits for local television ownership, local radio ownership, or cross-ownership of media within local markets."

John Sturm, president of the newspaper association, said the FCC rule changes "were based on solid evidence that repealing the outdated rules will greatly serve the public interest."

"A total ban on cross-ownership does not make sense in the highly diverse mass media world of 2005," Sturm said.

FCC officials say they are unsure how to proceed in part because of the media appeals. Moreover, FCC chairman Michael Powell (search) is leaving in March and his successor will have wide sway over the issue.

If the appeals fail, the FCC could submit new rules for the court's approval, as many critics have demanded, or it could pose new arguments in an effort to win favor with the appeals court.