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Court of Appeals halts FCC rule changes

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Court of Appeals halts FCC rule changes

  • New media ownership rules remain in limbo following an emergency stay, while the Senate Appropriations Committee voted against increasing the ownership cap.

Sep. 5, 2003 — Only one day before the Federal Communications Commission’s new media ownership rules were to go into effect, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.) on Wednesday issued an emergency stay pending a full review.

The Senate Appropriations Committee followed yesterday by voting against the controversial rule changes that would allow media companies to own local TV stations that can reach, in total, up to 45 percent of the nation’s viewers, up from 35 percent. Six weeks ago, Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill against the FCC plan, which would also enable a single media company to own newspapers and various broadcast outlets in the same area.

The large media organizations that favor the loosening of limits argue that any limits on ownership violate the First Amendment’s prohibition on restrictions of the press. But those who have been fighting the FCC rule changes, approved in June, describe the appellate court’s 11th-hour intervention as a victory for both journalistic quality and diversity of message.

“We wanted to ensure that they (FCC) adhere to making journalism better instead of weaker . . . we simply didn’t see that,” said UNITY President Ernest Sotomayor, whose organization has been lobbying against the changes. UNITY works to improve racial diversity in newsrooms.

In May, Sotomayor wrote to FCC Chairman Michael Powell, urging him to “make diversity in ownership and the workplace, and, most importantly in coverage, a priority . . . in ways that will push media companies to adhere to their promises of providing fair, representative, quality coverage.”

By voting to loosen media ownership restrictions — championed by large media companies such as Viacom (which owns CBS), General Electric (NBC) and News Corps (Fox) — Sotomayor says the FCC chose to put business ahead of the public’s interest.

Despite yesterday’s setback, the FCC says it will continue to defend its new regulations.

“While we are disappointed by the decision by the court to stay the new rules,” said a FCC spokesman, “we will continue to vigorously defend them and look forward to a decision by the court on the merits.”

(Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC; Media Counsel: Samuel L. Spear, Spear, Wilderman, Borish, Philadelphia) VR

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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