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Nonprofit challenges government definition of a media outlet

The nonprofit watchdog group Cause of Action is challenging the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) decision that it is not a member of the media, and asking the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s ruling in favor of the FTC.

First Amendment groups and national news outlets, led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, rallied behind Cause of Action in an amicus brief filed Tuesday, arguing that any narrow definition of media would stifle legitimate outlets and chill oversight of government.

Two years ago, the FTC denied requests from Cause of Action for fee waivers on several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, saying it did meet the qualifications because it was not a news media outlet.

Cause of Action appealed the denial, but the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., ruled in favor of the FTC in 2013, finding that the watchdog group did not qualify as media because it was insufficiently disseminating news to the public.

In its latest appeal, Cause of Action says the FTC’s decision “presents a cautionary tale about the harm done when agencies use fee waiver categorizations to chill the government accountability activities of nascent nonprofit organizations in the age of new media, especially when those nonprofits, like Cause of Action (COA) here, criticize agency actions.”

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