Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas Weigh in on Media Ownership Ruling

Photo by Sebastian Pichler via Unsplash

Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas Weigh in on Media Ownership Ruling

By Movieguide® Staff

The Federal Communications Commission—whose ownership rules regulate how many radio stations, TV stations and newspapers one entity owns in a given market—will loosen these ownership restrictions, the U.S. Supreme Court held. 

SCOTUS’ ruling overturns a lower court ruling that found the FCC’s changes “did not adequately consider the effect its sweeping rule changes will have on ownership of broadcast media by women and racial minorities.”

Every four years, the FCC is required to review its set of rules and make updates or modifications to restrictions that are not “necessary in the public interest as the result of competition.”

The Hollywood Reporter reported

In 2017, under then-chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC decided three of its rules were no longer necessary and removed longstanding restrictions prohibiting ownership of a both daily newspaper and TV station in any given market, limiting the number of radio stations and TV stations that can be owned, and requiring at least eight independently owned local TV stations remain in the market before a company can own two stations. It determined none of these changes would harm minority or female ownership of media outlets.

Prometheus Radio Project and other advocacy groups challenged the changes and argued the decision was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

Justice Brett Kavanaugh authored the court’s opinion about the ruling.

“The FCC adopted those rules in an early-cable and pre-Internet age when media sources were more limited,” Kavanaugh said. “[The Appeal Court] did not dispute the FCC’s conclusion that those three ownership rules no longer promoted the agency’s public interest goals of competition, localism, and viewpoint diversity. But the court held that the record did not support the FCC’s conclusion that the rule changes would ‘have minimal effect’ on minority and female ownership.”

Prometheus disputed the ruling and claimed that the FCC’s data did not show empirical evidence.  

“To be sure, in assessing the effects on minority and female ownership, the FCC did not have perfect empirical or statistical data. Far from it,” Kavanaugh wrote. “But that is not unusual in day-to-day agency decision making within the Executive Branch. The APA imposes no general obligation on agencies to conduct or commission their own empirical or statistical studies.”

He continued: “The FCC reasoned that the historical justifications for those ownership rules no longer apply in today’s media market, and that permitting efficient combinations among radio stations, television stations and newspapers would benefit consumers.”

Justice Clarence Thomas also addressed the topic:

Here, as in 2003, once the FCC determined that none of its policy objectives for ownership rules — viewpoint diversity, competition, and localism — justified retaining its rules, the FCC was free to modify or repeal them without considering ownership diversity. Indeed, the FCC has long been clear that ‘it would be inappropriate to retain multiple ownership regulations for the sole purpose of promoting minority ownership.’ The Third Circuit had no authority to require the FCC to consider minority and female ownership. So in future reviews, the FCC is under no obligation to do so.

Thomas’ biography, CREATED EQUAL: CLARENCE THOMAS IN HIS OWN WORDS, was nominated for Movieguide®’s Faith and Freedom® Award earlier this year.