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A Painful Reminder. A Moment for Change

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WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, Free Press filed a brief with the Supreme Court as justices prepare to hear the Trump FCC’s argument for reinstating its repeal of vital broadcast-ownership limits. The broadcast industry joined the FCC to seek this high-court review, aiming to overturn safeguards that limit corporate broadcasters’ ability to consolidate control over multiple stations and newspapers in individual local markets throughout the United States.

As it did on the initial appeal of that Trump FCC decision, Free Press today joined Common Cause; the Communications Workers of America-National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians; the United Church Of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc.; Movement Alliance Project; and the Prometheus Radio Project in seeking to uphold these protections to promote diversity in local broadcasting and newsgathering.

In 2019, the Third Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the FCC’s repeal of these rules, throwing the matter back to the agency. But rather than put in the work to correct its mistakes, the FCC and the Trump administration decided to appeal to the Supreme Court. On several occasions Free Press has challenged the Trump FCC’s ownership decisions for failing to address the impact of deregulation on race and gender diversity in broadcasting. In its brief today, Free Press and allies condemned the agency’s continued neglect of its obligation to promote localism, diversity and competition. The FCC’s failure on this front has led to a wave of media consolidation as giant broadcast conglomerates expand their hold on local radio and television stations via mergers and the use of shell companies.

In past decisions, courts have criticized the FCC’s inadequate efforts to analyze the lack of broadcast-ownership diversity, and the impact of the agency’s decisions on those numbers. The Third Circuit decision that's now on appeal characterized the Trump FCC’s approach as “so insubstantial that it would receive a failing grade in any introductory statistics class.”

The Supreme Court will hear this case on Jan. 19.

Free Press Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood made the following statement:

“Free Press remains confident that the FCC failed to follow the law and the agency’s own policies to promote diversity and prevent the rampant consolidation of media outlets in the United States. For far too long the FCC leadership has served as an arm of the broadcast lobby, refusing any accountability for the shameful lack of ownership diversity. It has pushed sexist and racist deregulatory policies that create nearly insurmountable barriers to entry for women and people of color.

“The Supreme Court doesn’t need to judge the substance or need for these FCC rules, it only needs to look at the agency’s process failures. While professing a belief in its own duty to promote broadcast-ownership diversity, the FCC has refused to analyze the data and examine the impact media consolidation has on ownership opportunities for women and people of color.

“These rules still matter greatly for local news and viewpoints. Even in the internet era, broadcast radio reaches almost 90 percent of people in the United States every week, and broadcast television remains the most popular source for local news and information. We need comprehensive action to remedy the historical discrimination that continues to block women and people of color from becoming station owners — not blessings for the FCC and the broadcast industry to further shut them out.

“As our brief explains, the Trump FCC in 2017 did not purport to change the agency’s longstanding views on the importance of ownership diversity. It pretended to keep the same goal and use the same facts to reverse course and repeal the rules in question. The FCC asserted that wholesale deregulation would not harm its own stated public-interest goals, even though any reasonable analysis of the record proved that past deregulation caused harm and significantly reduced ownership opportunities for new entrants.”

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