Tribune, CBS, Fox and NBC appeal to Supreme Court in media ownership case

Monday, January 31st 2005, 2:10 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Tribune Co. and the parent companies of CBS, Fox and NBC have asked the Supreme Court to restore the government's sweeping new media ownership rules, which have been thrown out by a lower court.

The big media companies contend the new Federal Communications Commission rules easing ownership restrictions are necessary because the old regulations, crafted decades ago, hamper their ability to grow and compete in a market that now includes cable television, satellite broadcasting and the Internet.

But 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 to the Supreme Court. The Bush administration did not explain its decision.

In question is a ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia last June that struck down the commission's new media ownership rules.

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 media ownership case.

The media companies' appeal was filed late Friday night, Clark Wadlow, an attorney for the companies, said Monday, which was the deadline for appeals.

The Republican-dominated FCC completed two years of review and voted 3-2 along party lines in 2003 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.''

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

If the media appeal fails, 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.