PHILADELPHIA – On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its long-awaited verdict in Prometheus Radio Project v. the Federal Communications Commission, rejecting the FCC’s attempt to further deregulate media ownership. The Court threw out FCC rules that would have allowed one company to own a newspaper and broadcast stations in the same market. The Court also upheld the FCC’s other limits on local broadcast ownership, and agreed with Prometheus and other public interest groups that the FCC failed to consider the impact of its rules on women and people of color.
"We won on almost every point. This decision is a vindication of the public's right to have a diverse media environment,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman of Media Access Project, who argued the case on behalf of Prometheus.
This is the second major victory this year for the Prometheus Radio Project, whose ten-year effort to pass legislation expanding community radio succeeded when President Obama signed the bipartisan Local Community Radio Act into law on January 4. The law will result in thousands of new community radio stations, and the FCC will be accepting applications for stations as early as next summer.
Both victories are the result of widespread, bipartisan grassroots organizing. The Third Circuit Court’s decision referred to the testimony from thousands of people who participated in FCC ownership hearings nationwide, finding that the FCC failed to give people adequate opportunity to weigh in on the rules.
“Media matters. Thousands of people fought to pass the Local Community Radio Act, and thousands more spoke out loudly when the FCC tried to further consolidate broadcast media. We’ve won these battles, but we must continue to push the FCC to do the right thing for community radio. Industry voices always have the ear of the FCC, but thanks to the nationwide clamor for a better media, we have their attention now,” said Brandy Doyle, Policy Director at the Prometheus Radio Project.
On July 12, the FCC will again propose new rules, this time to implement the Local Community Radio Act. The rules must comply with a mandate from Congress to ensure that channels will be available for low power FM community radio in urban markets. They will set a balance between low power stations and translators, which repeat the signals of larger stations. Prometheus and other public interest advocates are working for rules to give urban communities a voice on the airwaves.
“We look forward to seeing the FCC’s proposal on July 12, and we are ready to push for stronger rules if necessary,” said Doyle. “Commercial broadcasters must share the airwaves with the urban churches, schools, and non-profits who have waited more than a decade to serve their communities with radio.”
Preparing for that opportunity, volunteers nationwide are mobilizing community groups to apply for stations through Prometheus' Radio Summer outreach campaign.
Prometheus first won its landmark case against the FCC in 2003, blocking the FCC from dramatically consolidating broadcast media ownership. In 2007, the FCC tried to deregulate the industry again, seeking to end a 35-year old ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership. Today the Court rejected that effort.
In today’s win, Prometheus and Media Access Project were joined by public interest allies including Free Press, the Georgetown Institute for Public Representation, Media Alliance and United Church of Christ.