Democratizing the Media: A Victory for Low Power Radio

CCR won a suit on behalf of community and grass roots radio broadcasters when a federal appeals court ruled that the "pirate provisions" governing radio licensing were "unique and draconian" and violate the First Amendment.

Low power and micro radio broadcasting are vital to community formation and the development of a robust and expressive society.

Unfortunately the Federal Communications Commission has chosen to crack down on grassroots and community-based radio, denying them licenses to broadcast.

Microbroadcaster and radio activist Greg Ruggiero turned to CCR for help, and CCR proved victorious in court.

The United States Court Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Congressional restriction under the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act that bars individuals preciously engaged in microbroadcasting from ever being eligible for a low-power broadcasting license violates the First Amendment.

The Court said the Act's license restrictions did little to ensure future compliance with FCC and Congressional regulations and raised "a suspicion that perhaps Congress's true objective was not to increase regulatory compliance, but to penalize pirate micro broadcasters' message."

"This decision represents a vindication of the First Amendment rights of microbroadcasters," said Robert Perry, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). "When the FCC refused to issue licenses to those engaging in low power broadcasting licenses had no choice but to engage in civil disobedience and broadcast without a license."

After the FCC decided to begin issuing licenses to microbroadcasters, Congress passed the Radio Broadcasting Act of 2000, which included a lifetime ban on license eligibility for individuals previously engaged in microbroadcasting.

Lawyers at CCR brought the case - Greg Ruggiero vs. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - charging that the restriction against microbroadcasting violated individuals First Amendment rights.
CCR attorney Barbara Olshansky said, "These small stations served many different communities across the nation, and gave those whose interests and concerns were not represented on the airwaves, a chance to reach out. Now they will not be penalized automatically and permanently for airing their opinions and engaging in civil disobedience."


The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

October 23, 2007