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The hue and cry over the Federal Communications Commission’s new media ownership rules has entered the courts. A host of consumer groups and corporations are appealing the regulations, which generally loosen limits on TV, newspaper and radio company mergers. To date, various parties have filed 10 challenges to the rules in four different U.S. federal courts. Although House and Senate lawmakers have proposed legislation to overturn parts or all of the FCC’s initiative, such efforts could take until October to take effect. Raleigh, N.C., TV station operator Capitol Broadcasting Co. and the Communications Workers of America on Monday, filed a motion with the FCC asking the agency to delay implementing the media rules until Congress decides whether to nullify some or all of the regulations. The FCC is unlikely to approve the motion, which could stiffen resolve to block them. The media rules take effect Sept. 4, and as of Aug. 14, companies could file a merger application under the new system. The Network Affiliated Stations Alliance, an organization representing 600 local TV stations affiliated with ABC, CBS and NBC, last week asked the court to void a rule that raised from 35 percent to 45 percent the number of U.S. households a TV company may serve. Meanwhile, a Washington-based public interest law firm, Media Access Project, challenged the new regulations in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, arguing that merger barriers are essential to preserve media diversity. Also filing court appeals are the National Council of the Churches of Christ and the Citizens Communications Center Project, which is affiliated with the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. Andrew J. Schwartzman, president of MAP, said that in addition to the group’s court challenge, he plans to file on behalf of its clients a petition asking the FCC to reconsider its rules. MAP must challenge the FCC’s new “diversity index,” a benchmark assessing the concentration of media in the U.S., before consumer groups can dispute it in federal court, he said. Dana Frix, partner at law firm Chadbourne & Parke in Washington, said more corporations and consumer groups will join the drive to halt the rules, particularly if lawmakers fail to repeal them. “Lots of media groups are still waiting to see whether Congress will be successful before throwing their support behind a court challenge,” he said. But Frix also said the court actions stand a good chance of succeeding, asserting that the FCC has not substantiated its rationale for changing the rules. “It would not be surprising if a court were to find that the studies relied upon by the FCC are not strong enough evidence to keep the rules in place,” he said. Yet even as opposition to the rule rewrite grows, many large media companies are objecting to the rules on grounds they are not liberal enough in permitting consolidation. On Aug. 15 General Electric Co.’s NBC unit, News Corp. and Viacom Inc. each filed court petitions arguing that any rule restricting media industry deals is “arbitrary and capricious” and should be removed altogether. The petitions were filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. A Washington-based advocacy group, the National Association of Broadcasters, on Aug. 6 also challenged the FCC initiative in the D.C. federal appeals court. The NAB called for the repeal of a new rule barring radio company mergers and is contesting a TV station ownership rule that limits dealmaking to midsize and large broadcasters. In its petition the group said broadcasters in small markets also should be allowed to merge. Media General Inc., Richmond, Va.-based owner of 25 daily newspapers and 26 TV outlets, last week challenged a rule prohibiting newspapers from owning a television station in the same market. Although the FCC lifted this restriction for most midsize and large markets, Media General wants it repealed across the board, including in smaller markets. “We think there are serious First Amendment issues with this rule,” said M. Anne Swanson, an attorney with Dow, Lohnes & Albertson in Washington who represents Media General.

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