Students in Georgetown Law’s Tech & Communications Clinic won a victory at the Third Circuit on Monday as the court rejected the FCC’s latest attempt to scale back long-standing rules that help promote diversity in media ownership. The FCC’s action would have made it easier for large companies to own newspapers and broadcast stations in the same market, and for broadcasters to own a greater number of tv and radio stations in the same market.
In a 2-1 decision, the Court held that the FCC "did not adequately consider the effect its sweeping rule changes will have on ownership of broadcast media by women and racial minorities." Referencing the FCC’s obligation to consider the impact of its actions on minority and female ownership, the judges characterized the FCC’s analysis as “so insubstantial that it would receive a failing grade in any introductory statistics class.”
Critically, the decision also upheld the right of public interest organizations and ordinary individuals to sue the FCC on these matters.
The clinic challenged the FCC’s action on behalf of their clients Common Cause, Free Press, the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, and the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-Communications Workers of America. They were joined by additional groups including the Multicultural Media Telecom and Internet Council and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters.
Georgetown Law professor Angela Campbell and Andrew Schwartzman have served as lead counsel in three previous appeals of the FCC's media ownership decisions, which began in 2003, and many clinic students have worked on these cases over the years.
In this round, clinic students, fellows and faculty actively participated in the appeal. During the spring 2019 semester, two clinic students conducted legal and factual research and drafted filings with the Court to demonstrate the public interest groups’ standing. The Court found that they had standing and it strongly rejected challenges made by the FCC and industry intervenors.
Professor Angela Campbell made the following statement:
“It is very gratifying that the court has agreed with us once again that the FCC has paid insufficient attention to diversifying broadcast-station ownership. I hope that the FCC will finally do its job and take action so that that broadcasters will reflect the true diversity of the American public.”