It was no surprise yesterday that the Supreme Court announced it would not be reviewing the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision overturning the FCC’s media ownership revisions from 2003. Neither the agency nor the Bush Administration had the heart to re-fight the battle that Michael Powell waged to get these meager revisions through given the backlash it created two years ago.
So, where do we go from here? It’s pretty obvious. Media ownership reform will, once again, become a piecemeal, incremental process with each rule being considered individually over time. The FCC could have taken that path before, but Powell and staff opted for a more principled approach to the issue. He rightly viewed the media world not as a collection of distinct entities, outlets, and technologies, but rather as a big bucket of bits that were all increasingly commingling. Acknowledging the reality of media and technological convergence, Mr. Powell’s FCC decided to take a comprehensive approach to reforming this hodgepodge of confusing media ownership restrictions.
The problem was, by doing so, Powell had created a very juicy target for the media critics to go after. They were able to paint the reform effort as a radical gutting of all the media ownership rules even though the FCC’s revision of the rules only moderately relaxed the existing regulations–and even retained or strengthened some of the rules under consideration.