Dr. Eileen Lynch
21. Media and Elections
Explain why television and radio do not enjoy the same freedoms as the print media. Think about the Internet. How is it similar or different from other news media? What level of regulation would be appropriate for it? Is it more like broadcast media or more like print media?
The reason why radio and television do not enjoy as much freedom as the printed press is because broadcast stations are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. The networks are not licensed, but the stations they own and operate are. Now, the Federal Communications Commission does not regulate the news broadcasts directly, but the stations are required to operate in “the public interest”. One example offered in the textbook is that the Federal Communications Act requires broadcasts to provide equal time to all legally qualified political candidates if said candidates can afford to buy air time for commercials. But this requirement does not apply to news broadcasts, interviews and documentaries, and it also doesn’t mean that the stations must include fringe candidates in televised presidential or other political debates, since they are considered news. If any station should ignore the Federal Communications Commission they could find their licenses revoked (but this has not happened often, apparently). This means that the federal government can hold a big stick over the operations of a broadcasting company. And the reason why television and radio can be regulated was expressed by the Supreme Court when it said that “Unlike other modes of expression, radio (and television) is not available to all.” However, this regulation’s idiosyncrasies seem rather anachronistic and untenable when considering that television stations are more numerous than newspapers, and that the Constitution could not have possibly anticipated such a medium of communication.
And that goes double for the Internet. The Internet is similar to other news media only in its availability to users. And although it is much more similar to broadcast media than printed media in that it has mostly an audiovisual content, it seems to enjoy the freedom of the press in the amount of restrictions that do not apply to it.
Recently, there has been a great concern all over the world about the appropriateness of the content and the ease of access by vulnerable users. Along with questions of morality and legality, the Internet is also burdened with the potential of actually harming private property in the form of software attacks upon the user’s hardware and software. But that is the nature of such open accessibility, that along with useful information and data, one has to deal with much stuff that is merely useless or uninformed and some that is actually harmful. However, and though many federal laws apply to define what constitutes an Internet crime, the global reaction to any statutes or policies that aim to control the actual content of information in cyberspace seems to be uniformly in opposition. It seems that the strength of the Internet as a news medium relies on the fact that it can be accessed and updated by anyone at all, and people seem to believe that any act on the part of any government to restrict content will only be detrimental to the usefulness of it as a faithful news source.
Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American System, 10th Edition, Milton C. Cummings, Jr., David Wise, Thomson