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Court Rejects Transfer of FCC Hearings

September 16, 2003|Edmund Sanders | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A divided Philadelphia appellate court Monday rejected a request from the Federal Communications Commission and several major television networks to bow out of the legal wrangling over the agency's proposed media ownership reforms.

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals decided it would hear about a dozen legal challenges aimed at overturning the new rules.

The FCC and major TV networks CBS, NBC and Fox asked the court to transfer the cases to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which they said was better suited because it had previously struck down some of the rules and ordered others to be reviewed. Legal experts also predicted that the D.C. court would be more supportive of FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, who advocated the new rules.

"This court is no less qualified than any other court of appeals to determine whether the FCC has appropriately considered the public interest in its decision-making," the 3rd Circuit panel ruled Monday.

The suits had been consolidated in Philadelphia, which was selected by lottery to hear the cases. Earlier this month, the panel issued a temporary stay blocking implementation of the reforms, which would clear the way for increased consolidation in the broadcast industry.

The court also set down an expedited timetable to hear the lawsuits, including initial briefs due by Sept. 30 and oral arguments on Nov. 5.

Officials at the FCC could not be reached. An executive at News Corp., parent of Fox, said the networks would consider whether to appeal the decision.

In a dissenting opinion, 3rd Circuit Chief Judge Anthony Scirica supported transferring the cases to the D.C. Circuit.

Separately, the Senate is expected to invoke a rarely used congressional veto today to express its displeasure with the new rules. A vote on the matter is scheduled for this morning. The House is not expected to take up the matter, and President Bush has threatened a veto.

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