Press Release: Oral Arguments

Press Statement

Oral Arguments of Prometheus vs. FCC, Fate of the Media Hangs in the Balance

February 11, 2004

On February 13, 2004, the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, PA will hear oral arguments in Prometheus v. FCC. Prometheus Radio Project, in conjunction with our attorneys and Media Alliance, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Center For Digital Democracy, Consumers Union, and the Consumer Federation of America, filed suit against the Federal Communications Commission in opposition to the broadcast media ownership rules passed by the FCC in June 2003. On September 3, 2003, the Third Circuit imposed a stay of the implementation of the new rules, and on February 11th oral arguments will be heard on the substantive aspects of the case.

Prometheus Radio Project appreciates the court's willingness to hear our arguments regarding the faulty process which led to the adoption of wholly inappropriate media ownership rules by the FCC.

Inordinate Influence

Americans are concerned about giant corporations having too much power over the media. If ever there was a special interest group, it is the gaggle of giant media corporations. They manage America's perceptions of their activities using the very airwaves that they control. These are the wrong sorts of groups to give so much power over what Americans see and hear about our world. The consolidation that has already happened in radio should not happen in other media.

These new rules, if implemented, would allow media corporations to consolidate control over more outlets than ever before,. This is dangerous for all citizens, but especially for lower income people who can't afford satellite, cable and the internet. The recent "39%" compromise reached in Congress is a good example of the inordinate power of media owners to shape political outcomes. While a majority of members of Congress favored stronger action, they were not even allowed to vote on key provisions through backdoor manipulations of the parliamentary process by key leadership figures.

Economics is not the only science

Despite all the rhetoric brought forth by the industry, the FCC, and court decisions about the need for an empirical, scientific basis for the numerical limits on media ownership, the 39% figure arrived at by Congress, ironically, not based on serious scientific inquiry. Instead it was a backroom deal that makes a mockery of the policy process. We encourage the court to send the FCC back to the drawing board with a mandate to:

   -- Re-examine the citizen testimony in the earlier proceeding, and open up new comment periods on the issue, including allowing for detailed examination of such issues as the addition of non-commercial stations to voice counts and the ill-conceived "diversity index"

   -- Expand the scope of the "localism task force" to admit testimony relevant to ownership issues

   -- Clarify that "the dismal science" of economics is not the only empirical basis for examining issues of media policy.

From the tenor of its order, the FCC seems to believe that econometric arguments are the only sufficient basis for policymaking. Econometrics have the patina of science, because of all the numbers they have in them. But many of the FCC-sponsored studies simply counted whatever was easy to count, entirely missing the point of what citizens were concerned about.

Sociology, anthropology, and other sciences have quantitative and qualitative contributions to make in the policy process. Social problems and goals beyond the economic health of media companies and their advertisers must be considered, and citizens without obvious economic interests in this proceeding should be considered to be stakeholders. The 2.4 million comments filed at the FCC by concerned citizens should be treated with the dignity accorded to those living in a democracy, trying to preserve the ground rules of unfettered political debate and cultural expression. Our comments should not bedismissed as "emotional" or "fear mongering" just because they were not an economic analysis underwritten by a corporate stakeholder.

Today's media has a role larger than being an entertainment concession stand. TV teaches our children, displaces involvement in voluntary associations, informs on issues of national importance. We stand against micromanaging and content regulation, but our overall framework of media ownership must neither encourage a race to the bottom for shallow, titillating programming, nor place barriers in the way of those who wish to use media for the public good. In its rush to craft regulations that will appease powerful economic interests, the FCC has shirked its larger duty as administrators of the airwaves on behalf of American citizens.

Prometheus' experience in building non-commercial, non-profit, volunteer driven community radio stations shows us that media doesn't have to sink to the lowest common denominator, as the corporate model seems to dictate. The measure of a broadcast stations success need not be how many people it can tantalize into continuing to stare or listen in slack-jawed disgust. Our stations' goals are to give expression to those who are ignored, to allow channels for people whose stories may disturb our comfort, to stretch the limits of our audience's experience beyond the latest bit of scientifically marketed bubblegum pop music. A media that has no higher goal than to get people to stare will eventually create a culture of gawkers, not a culture of citizens. We urge the court not to give the runaway corporate media further power to dictate the cultural and political future of this country.


The Prometheus Radio Project is an activist organization that fights for more democratic ownership and regulation of media. Prometheus advocates for community organizations that want to start radio stations, and has helped build the first radio stations owned by civil rights and environmental organizations in the United States.

Congress arrived at a "compromise" forcing the limit on the number of televisions a network can own back down to 39% of the households in the country, but to date has not been able to call votes on the issues. Congress has also not had the opportunity to seriously address other problems in the order, such as newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership and the flawed diversity index.

The Prometheus Radio Project brought the motion to stay the rules on behalf of their constituents, the many thousands of Americans fighting to build low power, independent radio stations. Prometheus also works in coalition with many consumer rights, media justice, and public access groups, all of whom have fought actively to repeal the new rules.

There will be a press conference at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1100 Arch Street, at the end of the oral arguments, 4 pm, with representatives of Media Access Project, AFTRA, The Writers Guild, Common Cause, United Church Of Christ, and others.

  Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC
  Case No. 03-3388
  United States Court of Appeals Third Circuit

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit will hear oral arguments on Wednesday February 11th, 2004 at 10:00 am (EST) at the Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia.

  The Courthouse is located at:
  21400 U.S. Courthouse
  601 Market Street
  Philadelphia, PA 19106-1790

To view all documents filed in this case, please look at Media Access Project's Media Ownership courts webpage. This page will be updated daily with all procedural matters related to this case.

For more information about this ongoing case, contact Pete Tridish or Hannah Sassaman. 215-727-9620, 267-970-4007 (cell).