PhotoA federal appeals court has vacated a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that would have liberalized media ownership rules.

In a 2-1 vote, the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the agency did not “adequately consider the effect its sweeping rule changes will have on ownership of broadcast media by women and racial minorities."

The court ruled against the FCC because it said it "cited no evidence whatsoever regarding gender diversity," the judges wrote. The FCC had previously stated that there was no available data on female media ownership.

The court said the FCC’s failure to address the impact on female ownership was egregious enough but added that the agency failed to properly consider the evidence of minority ownership.

Drastic changes

Rules covering radio and TV station ownership have changed drastically in the last 40 years. It was not that long ago that the FCC prevented one company from owning more than seven AM, FM, and TV stations, and none in the same market.

Today one company may own hundreds of stations, including multiple stations in a single market.

The FCC adopted a rule in 2017 that eliminated some of the cross-ownership rules, declaring that they had little effect on diversity of ownership. 

The court ruling also overturned a 2018 FCC order that created a special program to help new players in the broadcast industry. The court found that the FCC's definition of "new entrant" made "no overt reference to race, gender, or social disadvantage." 

The FCC says it plans to appeal the court’s ruling. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai complained that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has consistently assumed FCC authority, attempting to block the agency from modernizing broadcast regulations.

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