US Court of Appeals for DC Circuit Rejects Petition to Reverse FCC's UHF Discount

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The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has declined to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's restoration of the UHF discount on the grounds that the parties challenging it--Free Press, Prometheus Radio--did not have standing to bring the challenge. That could be a big boost to broadcast mergers and acquisitions, though it might not be the big boost for the Sinclair-Tribune deal given the FCC's other problems with the deal. The UHF discount means that only half of a UHF TV station's audience counts towards the 39% national ownership cap. The discount allowed Sinclair to bid for Tribune stations that otherwise would have pushed it to almost double that 39% cap. “I’m pleased with the court’s decision to reject this challenge to the reinstatement of the UHF discount pending the completion of our comprehensive review of the national ownership cap," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

During oral argument April 2018, the judges clearly had concerns about not having statements from individual members of the associations establishing particular harms related to the Sinclair-Tribune deal, which the petitioners used as an example of the harms of the discount. The court wanted the petitioners to have identified at least one Free Press member or Prometheus member in a Sinclair market that would have been affected by the potential merger. The three-judge panel of the court said the argument did not even warrant a published opinion, adding that it did not have to reach the merits of the decision because of that lack of standing. Since there is no published opinion, it is unclear whether the petitioners could have won on the merits, though two of the three judges appeared inclined to agree with them. Most observers of that oral argument had speculated that, if the standing issue did not derail the challenge, it had a good chance of succeeding and the discount repealed and remanded back to the FCC.

US Court of Appeals for DC Circuit Rejects Petition to Reverse FCC's UHF Discount Court judgment dismissing pet. for review - Free Press v. FCC (read the court opinion) Appeals Court Dismisses Challenge to FCC’s ‘UHF Discount’ (Variety) Court dismisses challenge over FCC media ownership rule (The Hill)