U.S. Supreme Court Rules FCC Can Deregulate Media Ownership

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday (April 1) upheld a ruling that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can relax regulatory rules on media ownership and vacated a court ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday follows a lower court decision that blocked the FCC from repealing some media ownership rules in 2017 because they did not consider the impact on racial minority and female ownership. Industry critics say further media consolidation could limit consumer choice.

The Prometheus Radio Project and several other public interest groups have challenged the FCC’s reform measures, arguing that the agency uses flawed data.

But Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who authored the unanimous decision, found that the FCC, in changing the rules, “made reasonable predictive judgments based on the evidence before it.”

Kavanaugh further stated, “The FCC acknowledges that the data set it relied on was flawed and notes that, despite its repeated requests for more data, it received no counter-evidence showing that changing the three ownership rules could harm minority and female ownership.”

He added, “Prometheus also claims that the FCC ignored two studies submitted by a commenter. That report claimed that past relaxation of ownership rules had led to a decline in minority and female ownership levels. But the record shows that the FCC considered these studies and interpreted them differently.”

Cavanaugh continued, “The FCC repeatedly requested that commenters, submit empirical or statistical studies on the relationship between the ownership rules and minority and female ownership. Despite these requests, no commenter has provided such, demonstrated evidence that the rule change may harm minority and women’s ownership.”

It is unclear whether the FCC will actually restrict certain regulations. The FCC is obligated to review regulatory provisions targeting media ownership every four years.

In 2017, under a chairman appointed by former President Donald Trump (R-Texas), the FCC repealed a regulatory measure that prohibited companies from owning two television stations in a market with at least eight independent stations.In 2017, the commission also lifted a ban on owning both a radio station and a print newspaper in the same market and called off ban on owning both a radio station and a television station in the same market.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, an attorney for the Prometheus Radio Project, responded by saying, “The root cause of this case is that the FCC has failed to collect, over the last several decades, meaningful data about who actually owns U.S. radio stations. We now need to work with the Biden administration’s FCC to get that information.”