Late Friday, the FCC issued an Order reinstating the FCC’s 2016 ownership rules, recognizing that the changes made in those rules in 2017 (see our post here) were no longer effective because the Third Circuit Court of Appeals had thrown out the 2017 decision. See our post here on the Third Circuit decision and our article here on the court’s denial of rehearing en banc. While the FCC may still try to appeal the Third Circuit decision to the Supreme Court, the Third Circuit’s mandate has issued, meaning that its order is effective even if a Supreme Court appeal is filed.
Among the rule changes that have been rendered a nullity are the abolition of the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rule (once again reinforcing what we have written several times, that the rule may well outlive the daily newspaper) and the radio-television cross-ownership rule, the local TV ownership rule that had allowed combinations of two TV stations in the same market even if there were not 8 independent voices in the market after the combination, and changes to the FCC’s processing policy with respect to radio embedded markets. These changes required the FCC to also issue two Public Notices dealing with these changes.
The first Public Notice deals with license renewal applications and requires that anyone with a pending license renewal application for a commercial station must file an amendment stating whether the station licensee (and each party with an attributable interest in the licensee) complies with the FCC’s 2016 cross-ownership rules that are now in effect. Going forward, every renewal application for a commercial station must report any violation of the broadcast-newspaper or radio-television cross-ownership rules.
The second Public Notice similarly requires any application for approval of an assignment or transfer to confirm that the proposed sale will comply with the 2016 rules.
The Third Circuit decision certainly has affected the plans of many broadcast companies. These FCC decisions help drive home the effect of the decisions. While the FCC may still be taking steps to deal with the court’s decision (including a potential appeal of the decision), until such steps are taken, the Third Circuit’s decision is the rule of the land. Watch for more developments after the holidays.