Connoisseur Media LLC applauds the decision of the FCC to seek a rehearing from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals of the decision by a panel of its Judges to throw out the common-sense reforms in the FCC’s ownership rules that were adopted in 2017. Connoisseur itself was an advocate of one of the reforms thrown out by the panel of Judges – a reform that had allowed the company to increase its presence in the suburban markets around New York City to strengthen the company’s ability to provide important local programming in those markets – an ability that had been hampered by the competition from much larger companies owning NY radio stations that compete for listeners and advertisers without addressing local concerns. This common-sense reform, which was not specifically opposed by anyone before the FCC or before the Court, was thrown out like the proverbial baby with the bathwater in the panel’s misguided decision. We hope that the other Judges on the Third Circuit will heed the FCC’s call for rehearing and agree that the FCC’s reforms should stand.
Connoisseur believes the panel’s approach to broadcast ownership regulation should be overturned, because if left in place, it will stop in its tracks any further efforts of the FCC to bring its ownership rules in line with modern realities. The FCC will be forced to try to meet the panel’s impossible standard of assessing the history of broadcast ownership regulation before it can make any of the much-needed changes in the current rules. The failure to review the panel’s decision will likely put on hold further changes in the radio ownership rules to allow radio owners to strengthen their businesses to survive the onslaught of unrestrained competition from digital media.
Giant international digital media companies are competing directly in local radio markets, both for listeners and advertising dollars. These digital giants are not subject to the limits on growth that constrain broadcasters, nor are they subject to the same content regulations. Broadcasters have in their DNA the desire to serve their local communities, but they need a strong economic base to be able to provide the meaningful local programming that Connoisseur and so many other broadcasters strive to produce.
The FCC needs the flexibility to amend its ownership rules to reflect the current and future state of the industry, and not be hamstrung by a court decision that is rooted in looking at the past. We sincerely hope that the FCC’s request for rehearing is successful, so that these much-needed reforms can move forward.