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The Federal Communications Commission urged a federal appeals court Tuesday to ignore a legal challenge by consumer groups to the agency’s new rules governing mergers among radio, television and newspaper companies. “The commission’s revised rules are a measured response to the substantial changes in the broadcast industry and the media marketplace in recent years,” the FCC wrote in a brief submitted to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. The court is reviewing the regulations, which the FCC issued in June. Consumer activists challenged the rules, arguing that easing media ownership restrictions would accelerate industry consolidation and harm media diversity. The Media Access Project, a public interest advocacy law firm in Washington, petitioned the appeals court in October to void the revised rules. Also attacking the regs are large media companies such as Viacom Inc., News Corp. and Tribune Co., which want the government to eliminate the restrictions altogether. They contend that the FCC failed to prove that the rules redress an actual harm. The 3rd Circuit ordered the FCC to put the new rules on hold as it considers the appeal. The Philadelphia court will hear arguments Feb. 11 in the case. In its brief, the FCC said that Congress in the 1996 Telecommunications Act and other laws has authorized the agency to adjust the ownership rules to reflect changes in the media industry. The agency also noted that a recent congressional change to a regulatory cap on national television ownership cap effectively moots consumer and corporate challenges to the provision. Late last month House and Senate conferees included language in a broad spending bill that would establish a 39 percent cap on the number of U.S. households a single TV company could serve. That cap would replace the FCC’s 45 percent limit. The previous limit was 35 percent. In another move to support the media rules, the FCC brief defends the agency’s use of a controversial index it developed to measure the level of media diversity in a given market. The diversity benchmark will be used to assess various media in a market, including broadcasters, newspapers and Internet news sites, to determine if there is a sufficiently broad mix of local and national perspectives, the agency said. Consumer groups and companies panned the index, arguing that the FCC gives disproportionate importance to the Internet as a media outlet. Specifically, they maintain that the Internet is not a significant source of local news, a key benchmark of diversity. The commission also made a case for its repeal of a rule banning a newspaper from owning a broadcast outlet in the same market. The agency said newspaper-broadcast combinations create “efficiencies and synergies” that improve local news coverage. In its legal brief, Media Access said the FCC overhauled the media rules without sufficient research or explanation. For instance, the agency included non-commercial stations into its segmentation of the radio market without providing any data or studies to support such a definition, the group said. “The commission arbitrarily and capriciously permits additional consolidation in many radio markets by counting noncommercial radio stations in local markets,” Media Access said. The group also blasted the agency’s diversity index, arguing that it is untested and falsely scientific. Despite the legal challenges to the regulations, legal experts expect the court to remand the rules to the FCC for reconsideration. �Copyright 2003, The Deal, LLC. All rights reserved.

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