As we wrote last week, Prometheus Radio Project and the Media Mobilizing Project have filed an appeal of the FCC’s November decision to eliminate the newspaper-broadcast and radio-television cross-ownership rules and to relax the local TV ownership rules (see our summary here). These groups have now filed a request – an Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus – asking not only that the Court put the rule changes on hold, but also that the Court appoint a “special master” to oversee the FCC’s further action on the ownership rules. The request to put these rules on hold could, if adopted, block transactions that are pending or those that parties are planning on filing to take advantage of the changes in the ownership limits. The request also asks that the case be assigned to judges on the Third Circuit who have dealt with prior appeals of the FCC’s ownership rules and have, in a few cases, overruled those decisions (see, for instance, our article here).
These public interest groups allege that the FCC has ignored prior decisions of the Court which the groups characterize as requiring that the FCC look at the impact of any rule change on minority ownership, and look for ways to enhance ownership diversity, before any changes are made in the ownership rules. Of course, the same court has also suggested that the FCC do away with the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules and recognized that other changes in the ownership rules (like on JSAs) need not be stopped in their tracks (see our post here on one such order from the Court). And several broadcast owners previously asked the Third Circuit to wipe all the media ownership rules off the books—creating, in effect, complete deregulation in the industry. While the court declined to do so, it noted that “this remedy, while extreme, might be justified in the future if the Commission does not act quickly to carry out its legislative mandate.”
So the public interest groups’ filing is, as is always the case, one side of the story. We will be watching to see further developments in this case in the near future. As the ownership decision is set to go into effect on February 7 (see our post here), if any action is taken on this motion, it would have to be taken quickly.