FCC Rule Change That Hurt Minorities Fought at 3rd Circuit

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Urging the Third Circuit to chuck local television ownership and radio-television cross-ownership rules, a lawyer argued Tuesday that they have brought minority and female ownership of broadcast media to abysmal lows.

Representing the Prometheus Radio Project, Cheryl Leanza of the consulting firm A Learned Hand said at oral arguments that people of color and women own, respectively, 7.1%  and 7.4% of the available market.

Making the case that the Federal Communications Commission used bad data when it revised the rules in 1999, Leanza said the FCC had no data on women ownership when it examined the impact that these revisions would have on minorities and women attempting to infiltrate television and radio. 

“The FCC needs to have sufficient data,” she said, explaining that, while the commission collects ownership data every other year, the ownership survey itself is voluntary, which makes the data incomplete. 

Making comparisons with this data is like “comparing rotten apples to rotten oranges,” she said. “They’re at fault for not collecting the data.” 

Jacob Lewis, associate general counsel for the FCC, said that the agency did consider how the rule revisions would impact women and minorities. 

It conducted an analysis of the available data, “which admittedly is not perfect,” he said. He explained that the data did not account for female ownership, only minority ownership. Using the minority data, however, Lewis said the commission concluded that there is “no evidence that role revisions would cause an adverse impact on minority and female ownership.” 

“Isn’t that a significant departure from your responsibility to check gender and minority ownership?” U.S. Circuit Judge Julio Fuentes asked. 

Lewis said no, insisting that the lack of data on female ownership didn’t mean the commission couldn’t “satisfy its analysis.” 

“Minority and female ownership is certainly an aspect of public interest but it is only one aspect of public interest,” he explained. 

“Any data on gender would be better than zero,” U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro said. 

Leanza has said that her client would like to vacate the local television rule. 

“All of these rules are infected by the flawed analysis we’ve been discussing,” she said. “The rules should be vacated as a result.” 

The panel, which also included U.S. Circuit Judge Anthony Scirica, did not indicate when it will rule.

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