- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

From combined dispatches

PHILADELPHIA — A federal appeals court yesterday issued an emergency stay delaying new Federal Communications Commission rules that would allow a single company to own newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same city.

The new media-ownership rules, which the FCC approved in June on a party-line 3-2 vote, also would allow a single company to own TV stations reaching 45 percent of the nation’s viewers.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a coalition of media-access groups called the Prometheus Radio Project would suffer irreparable harm if the new rules were allowed to go into effect as scheduled today. The Philadelphia coalition campaigns for greater radio access and provides technical support and advice to groups seeking to establish low-power radio stations.

“Given the magnitude of this matter and the public’s interest in reaching the proper resolution, a stay is warranted pending thorough and efficient judicial review,” the court said in its order.

The FCC regulations are now blocked until the court can decide on the merits of the case. FCC Chairman Michael Powell said earlier yesterday that the court case could take between six months and a year.

Small broadcasters and network affiliates are concerned the new rules will allow the networks to buy more stations and limit local control of programming.

“We think this decision gives both Congress and the courts time to more thoroughly consider the FCC’s decision,” said Cheryl Leanza of the nonprofit Media Access Project, which is representing the Prometheus Radio Project in court.

The National Association of Broadcasters contends the changes don’t go far enough. The influential industry group filed an appeal last month to block changes to how radio markets are defined and to overturn rules that still prevent TV station mergers in some smaller markets.

“While we are disappointed by the decision by the court to stay the new rules, we will continue to vigorously defend them and look forward to a decision by the court on the merits,” FCC spokesman David Fiske said yesterday.

The Senate Appropriations Committee may vote today to block the FCC rule letting networks own stations that reach 45 percent of the U.S. audience, up from the previous limit of 35 percent, said a spokesman for Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat.

The House of Representatives voted 400-21 in July to block this rule as part of a larger spending bill. The Bush administration has said it would consider its first veto if the measure also passes the Senate. Critics had asked the FCC to suspend the rules while it studied their effect on communities. Mr. Powell, one of the three Republicans who backed the new rules, had said that although the commission is examining ways to promote local programming, that issue should be addressed separately from the ownership rules.

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