WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today led a coalition of 23 Attorneys General voicing concern with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal of rules designed to promote diversity and local ownership in broadcast media. In an amicus brief filed in FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Attorneys General argue that the FCC’s new rules will not only decrease representation of minority communities in local media, but will also lead to greater media consolidation, which threatens local news. Further, they assert that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit—which previously heard this case—correctly concluded that the FCC neglected to consider how repealing these rules would impact diversity in media ownership. The coalition is asking the Supreme Court to affirm the Third Circuit’s holding that the FCC’s pre-existing broadcast ownership rules are in the public interest, and that the agency’s changes to those rules are arbitrary and capricious.
“At a time when media consolidation has coincided with a drop in women- and minority-owned media companies, the FCC has made matters worse by stripping away the few regulations in place to preserve diverse ownership and local control of the news,” said AG Racine. “Diversity enhances news media offerings in every medium, ensuring all communities—especially communities of color—can access relevant local news and critical public safety information. That is why our coalition urges the Court to affirm the Third Circuit’s decision, holding that diversity is properly considered.”
The FCC regulates the ownership of broadcast media and has long used its regulatory authority to promote diversity in ownership while limiting common ownership of multiple outlets within a single market. Promoting diversity is advanced in part through ownership rules that give certain preferences to “eligible entities,” which are meant to encourage ownership by women and people of color. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the Act), the FCC must review its rules every four years to determine whether there is enough competition among media outlets to preserve the public interest without the need for federal regulation. Since 2002, the FCC’s performance of its duties under that Act have come before the courts four times.
FCC v. Prometheus represents the fourth instance where the FCC’s duties under the Act are in question before the courts. The case focuses on several recent actions taken by the FCC scaling back many of the rules regulating broadcast ownership. Last year, the Third Circuit heard the case, eventually vacating the FCC’s actions because the Commission did not adequately consider the effects its new rules would have on ownership of broadcast media by women and racial minorities. The FCC has sought review in the Supreme Court, arguing that it took these impacts into account. Further, a group of media conglomerates have claimed that the FCC should not design regulations to accommodate racial or gender diversity.
In this amicus brief, the states argue that the FCC’s move was arbitrary and capricious and, specifically, that the conglomerates’ interpretation of the Act is wrong. The coalition collectively supports protecting diversity in broadcast media because:
- Diversity in media ownership is critical to broader society: Minority and women-owned broadcast media companies offer several advantages to the public. They are more likely to provide a wider range of viewpoints across their programming and hire minority employees. This is vital to ensuring coverage of news relevant to minority communities. These companies are also more likely to offer multilingual communications—the dearth of which has endangered residents in the face of natural disasters ranging from wildfires in California to Hurricanes Katrina, Ike, and Sandy. Finally, promoting minority ownership can prevent the broadcast media industry from becoming overly concentrated, helping all residents maintain access to credible local news sources. These factors all contribute to higher levels of civic engagement among minority residents.
- The FCC must remain committed to keeping local news local: Current media industry concentration has coincided with a decline in minority ownership of broadcast media and in the offerings of local news coverage. Should the Supreme Court adopt the industry conglomerates’ reading of the Act, the states argue that it would strip the FCC’s ability to establish regulations that preserve local ownership—leaving residents at risk of losing reliable local news sources. The states further offer reasons why local news is important to our state and local communities: it fosters community cohesion, stimulates civic engagement and voter turnout, checks government officials by ferreting out greed, corruption, and waste, and provides channels of communication during natural disasters and pandemics.
A copy of the amicus brief is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Amicus-FCC-Prometheus.pdf
AG Racine is leading the amicus brief and is joined by Attorneys General from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.