Supreme Court upholds FCC move to loosen media ownership rules

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a move by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to relax media ownership rules, handing down a unanimous ruling that favors large broadcasters.

The decision dealt a blow to challengers who argued that laxer regulations could usher in more media consolidation at the expense of minority and female media ownership.

The justices found the FCC had acted reasonably in its 2017 regulatory rollback, which included scrapping a rule that had barred a single company from owning a radio or TV station along with a newspaper in a single local market.

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“The FCC considered the record evidence on competition, localism, viewpoint diversity, and minority and female ownership, and reasonably concluded that the three ownership rules no longer serve the public interest,” wrote Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughPence calls for Roe v. Wade to be sent to 'ash heap of history' ahead of abortion ruling Supreme Court to hear landmark abortion case this week Roe redux: Is 'viability' still viable as a constitutional doctrine? MORE.

The court found that although the FCC moved forward with its rule change despite incomplete data on the potential impact to minority and female ownership, the commission's analysis passed legal muster.

“The ruling reaffirms that agencies have quite a bit of discretion and flexibility in crafting their regulations,” said Steven Schwinn, a law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Under federal law, the FCC is tasked with reviewing media-ownership rules every four years. 

With more consumers moving online, the Republican-led FCC in 2017 determined that more consolidation could help owners of traditional media who were increasingly losing out to Internet-based competitors for advertising dollars.

A number of challengers, led by Prometheus Radio Project, sued to block the FCC from easing regulations. A Philadelphia-based federal appeals court sided with the challengers, prompting the FCC’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

Updated at 1:21 p.m.