United States Court Backs Fight Against Media Concentration: Public Interest, Not Profit Comes First

Campaigners against media concentration in the United States have won a major victory following the decision by the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn changes in media ownership rules proposed by the Federal Communications Commission.

“This is an historic victory for those campaigning for public service values in media,” said Aidan, White, IFJ General Secretary. “It is a judgment in favour of a democratic media system that puts people first, not excessive profits for big media.”

The decision by the Court of Appeals in the case Prometheus Radio Project v. Federal Communications Commission requires the commission to rewrite its controversial easing of rules governing ownership of the newspaper, television and radio industry.

A massive, country-wide protest campaign involving millions of US citizens, press freedom groups, trade unions and community organisations, who condemned changes which opened the door to single ownership of television, radio and monopoly newspaper interests in local markets.

The strength of public opposition also led to cross-party political opposition to the changes within the US Congress. Among those campaigning were media trades unionists including the IFJ affiliates in the US, the Newspaper Guild-CWA, the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, the National Writers’ Union, and the Writers Guild of America (East).

“This is a triumph for the people power over media corporations that have just got too big,” said White.

The court ruling means that the Federal Communications Commission, which has a Republican majority, will have to revise major rule changes concerning the cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations and the concentration of broadcast ownership in metropolitan centres.
Together, these rules would have allowed one company to own three TV stations, 8 radio stations, and the monopoly newspaper in a single market. Both rules have been sent back to the Commission on the grounds that the evidence and reasoning presented did not justify the changes as serving the public interest.

Critically, the Court rejected the FCC claim that the US Congress had ordered a loosening of ownership rules in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The Court says that public interest ownership limits must stay unless there is evidence to warrant their removal.

“Media concentration is a menace around the world,” said White. “But this verdict sends a powerful message that the public interest is best served by pluralism and diversity – not increasing concentration.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries