A US federal court has blocked controversial new media ownership rules a day before they were meant to come into force.
Liberalising media rules has met stiff opposition
The rules, drawn up by the regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, have been widely criticised by both pressure groups and lawmakers for allegedly heightening the power of big media companies.
The rules would have allowed a single company to own TV stations that reach 45% of the national audience, up from 35%, as well as owning radio, TV and newspaper outlets within a single city.
"Given the magnitude of this matter, and the public's interest in reaching the proper resolution, a stay is warranted pending thorough and efficient judicial review," a three-judge panel said.
If the new structure were allowed to come into effect on Thursday, they ruled, the media access coalition requesting the stay - the Prometheus Radio Project - would be "irretrievably harmed".
Big media groups such as Viacom, NBC - currently planning to merge with Vivendi Unviersal's US arm - and Time Warner, on the other hand, would not suffer from a stay, the judges said.
The row over the new rules has been loud and bitter.
On the one hand, FCC Chairman Michael Powell - the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell - has said the rules are nothing more than an update to move them into the modern market.
FCC chief Michael Powell says ownership isn't everything
He has tried to answer critics' charges that local programming would be harmed by offering a wide-ranging inquiry.
And the Commission earlier this week bowed to pressure and said it would no longer take free travel and entertainment from the industries it regulates.
But the critics are not satisfied.
The House of Representatives threw out the rules by 400 votes to 21 in July this year, and a Senate committee voted on Thursday to follow suit.
"The ruling recognises what I hope most of the Senate recognises: these rules are inappropriate," said Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat who has helped lead the push to rewrite them.