The Supreme Court today declined to hear appeals by big media companies that had sought to implement controversial new government rules easing restrictions on media ownership.
Without comment, the nation's highest court let stand a lower court ruling that threw out the Federal Communications Commission regulations, which were adopted in a hotly contested vote two years ago but had never taken effect.
The FCC regulations would have allowed television networks such as CBS and Fox to buy a few more television stations nationally and let one company own both the biggest newspaper and highest-rated television station in most cities, thus allowing big media companies to become even bigger -- and more influential -- in their marketplaces.
Critics argued that the regulations would have encouraged mergers and squashed competition in news and entertainment. Some media organizations, on the other hand, lobbied heavily in support of the rules. The White House, the Republican congressional leadership and the Republican-dominated FCC had all backed the new ownership rules.
The FCC, which issued the new rules after two years of studying the issue, has already announced that it is seeking to draft new rules that will meet the criteria of the lower court ruling. The media groups seeking changes say the existing rules don't address the ever-expanding cable television, satellite broadcasting and Internet markets.
The FCC also had urged the Supreme Court to turn away the appeals, saying it should first be given a chance to re-draft the new rules.
The day before the FCC rules were set to go into effect in September 2003, they were stayed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia. The court said the FCC had not done a good enough job of justifying how the rules were drawn up.
Among the media organizations appealing to the Supreme Court were the Newspaper Association of America, Tribune Co., the National Association of Broadcasters and Richmond-based Media General.
The companies argued that the lower court should have upheld the FCC rules because of the federal agency's expertise. After the lower court's ruling, the FCC chose not to pursue its own appeal. Media lawyers had predicted the Supreme Court would not hear the case because it was led by an industry rather than a government agency.