TV Stations Sue FCC Over Collusion Policy

The new policy limits coordination between broadcasters.

A customer stands in front of a wall of flat panel televisions at a Best Buy store June 19, 2007 in San Francisco, California. (National Journal)

Television broadcasters are suing to block an attempt by the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on media consolidation.

The lawsuit by the National Association of Broadcasters claims that the agency's new policy is "arbitrary and capricious" and an abuse of power. The suit, filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, also claims that the FCC failed to follow proper rule-making procedure.

Under the FCC Media Bureau's policy, which was first issued in March, the agency will scrutinize any deals between TV stations that share a single advertising staff or other resources — such as news helicopters. Later in the month, the FCC enacted broader rules against "joint sales agreements."

Democratic FCC officials argue that major TV companies around the country are colluding to undermine the agency's media-ownership caps.

The FCC bars any company from owning more than one of the top four TV stations in a market. By selling ads for multiple stations, companies have been able to dodge the FCC's ownership cap while effectively controlling several stations, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

The goal of the TV ownership cap is to ensure that viewers have access to a diverse range of views in the media and that no single corporation is able to dominate the flow of information.

Republicans and broadcasters warn that the FCC's actions will force small TV stations off the air. They argue that sharing resources helps stations save costs and focus more on covering news important to their local communities.

CORRECTION: This post has been updated to reflect that the lawsuit is over the Media Bureau's policy guidance as opposed to the new rules on joint sales deals.