Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Going to the Supreme Court for Media Justice

As part of its 60-year-old mission in pursuit of media justice, the UCC's media justice ministry, OC Inc., filed in the Supreme Court today. The case came to the Supreme Court when the Trump Administration and the broadcast industry appealed a UCC victory in federal court last year that blocked the FCC's effort to permit more local television mergers and other media combinations in local communities.  

 

In last year's victory, in Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC, the federal appellate court in Philadelphia, ruled that the Federal Communications Commission could not permit additional consolidation when it ignored facts in the record showing consolidation would harm ownership rates by women and people of color. The FCC has long decried low ownership diversity numbers but ignored facts in the record showing consolidation harms diversity by putting more television and radio stations into the hands of fewer and fewer owners.

 

As Cheryl A. Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor and lead litigator in the case in Philadelphia explained last year, "the court found the FCC treated its obligation as less-important than high school math homework and got caught turning in work that, in the court's words, 'would receive a failing grade in any introductory statistics class.'"

 

The state of ownership diversity is abysmal. Although the FCC's data is flawed and not completely reliable, it gives the best indication we currently have regarding current numbers. In full power television, racial minorities combined own 26 stations out of 1,376 licensed stations, Hispanics own 58 stations, and women own 73. In FM radio, racial minorities own 159 of 6,647 radio stations, Hispanics own 219, and women own 390. In all cases, the share owned by women and people of color is in the single digits, and in the case of most individual categories, such as Asian Americans, control is less than 1 percent. And the FCC data is incomplete, for example in FM radio 19 percent of stations did not report any data at all.

 

The UCC's history in court against the FCC goes back to the earliest days of the denomination when Rev. Everett C. Parker began his work as the original director of communications and founded OC Inc. He worked with local residents and church members to monitor and hold accountable television stations in the South by monitoring their content and filing challenges to TV station license renewals at the FCC. In those early days, the UCC established the right of audience members—as opposed to competing stations—to file challenges at the FCC when a broadcaster did not serve its local community.

 

The current case, which is a collaboration among the UCC and other public interest organizations including the Prometheus Radio Project, will determine the rules of the road for future FCC proceedings considering media ownership rules. The current debate has been on-going for 20 years, ever since Congress required the FCC to review its broadcast ownership rules on a regular basis. Each of those proceedings has come before the court in Philadelphia and the FCC has repeatedly failed to comply with its obligations, leading to four cases known as Prometheus I, II, III and IV.

 

"This case is about when a federal court should carefully scrutinize an agency and when it should grant the agency more deference," said Ms. Leanza, "in this case, the appellate court reviewed the FCC's work and found it failed the bare minimum for a federal agency. The lower court should clearly be upheld."

 

Oral argument is scheduled for January 19, 2021 via teleconference because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A decision will occur before the end of the Supreme Court's term next June.

Lead counsel on the brief are Ruthanne M. Deutsch and Hyland Hunt of DeutschHunt PLLC. Also on the brief are Cheryl A. Leanza, who advises OC Inc. directly and serves as counsel to OC Inc. and several of the other parties through Best Best & Krieger, LLP and Andrew Jay Schwartzman.

For more background on this case, read our previous blog posts:

Categories: media concentration

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