Today, Public Knowledge filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the Prometheus Radio Project and other opponents of the Federal Communication Commission’s 2017 Order eliminating most of the broadcast ownership rules. Prometheus Radio Project won their case in September 2019, and the Third Circuit reversed the FCC’s Order. Broadcasters and the FCC separately appealed, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear both appeals.
In the brief, Public Knowledge urges the Supreme Court to uphold the Third Circuit’s decision, which found that the FCC had failed to consider the impact of its decision to relax the existing media ownership on broadcast ownership by minorities and women. Public Knowledge argues that because broadcasters receive their spectrum for free and receive other protections and privileges, broadcasters must observe unique regulatory obligations. Among these obligations is accepting ownership limitations designed to promote diversity in our mass media. Public Knowledge also argued that the FCC’s failure to consider the impact on women and minority ownership of the 2017 Broadcast Incentive Auction — which reclaimed one-third of all broadcast channels nationwide for 5G — was arbitrary and supports the Third Circuit’s decision to vacate the FCC’s 2017 Order.
The following may be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge:
“The rise of social media and cable news networks has not replaced broadcasting as an important source of news and perspectives — especially not on a local level. A world of broadcast news controlled by Sinclair, News Corp., Comcast, Disney and a handful of other giant corporations is a world of media gatekeepers, anemic local news coverage, and limited perspectives. Preventing further consolidation of news media remains critical to the health of our democracy.
“For almost 85 years, broadcasters have enjoyed unique privileges among exclusive spectrum licensees. In exchange for these privileges, broadcasters agree to abide by the FCC’s rules and policies promoting diversity in media markets. The unique value and power of broadcast licenses in providing diverse sources of news and different viewpoints remains critically important to the public today.
“Before relaxing the ownership rules, the FCC had a responsibility to assess the impact of its decision on ownership by women and minorities, and it did not. The FCC also refused to consider the impact of the 2017 Spectrum Incentive Auction — the single most transformational event on broadcast ownership in a decade. Based on this alone, the Court of Appeals’ decisions should stand.”
The cases are Federal Communications Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project, No. 19-1231, and National Association of Broadcasters v. Prometheus Radio Project, No. 19-1241. Oral argument is scheduled for January 19, 2021.
A copy of the brief can be found here.
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