Implications of the Changing Media Laws in United States

Term Paper, 2014

14 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Contents


Communication Law
Changes in the Media Law
Framework of Communication Law
Fairness doctrine
Normative media theories
Prior Restraint
Open government
Models of media regulation

Emerging Issues and Laws

Comparison of United States Media Laws with other Countries

Critical Analysis




The purpose of the media is to express an opinion supported by facts, during this process, media houses have experienced conflicts with the courts. The law can, however handle such disagreements through if the media houses intend to exist in the democratic media system. There are certain principles that the media and the courts conflict over how they should be achieved. The media believe in independence, meaning that, they should pursue their objectives without any pressure from the governments or any groups, for the benefit of their target audience. The principle of diversity also applies because the public is entitled to different sources of information to meet the interests of different target groups. Diversity can also be achieved in the form of information quality because the information available to the people should be accurate, relevant and trustworthy. The media is expected to have a positive influence on the society and not intentionally offending the norms through maintenance of cultural and social order especially in the cases of minorities.

The problem arises in the application of the stated principles. They in themselves are conflicting because it is hard for the media houses to express freedom and maintain order or to give attention to the values of the minority over those of the majority. In such cases, one or more of the principles is bound to be infringed, as such, the courts have to act in order to regulate conflicts them.

Communication Law

The communications law is codified in the United States under the Communications Act of 1934. Its purpose is to regulate wire communications and encompasses regulations on the internet, telecommunications, cable TV and satellite communications. Under its obligations, the Act controls the Radio spectrum management by regulating the parties allowed to use public airwaves to make any sort of transmission and the conditions for the transmission if allowed. The government, under the Act, controls the spectrum auction or allocation which assigns radio frequency blocks between the government, the public and private owners which can even be for commercial purposes.

The market for communication is also regulated to ensure that relationships between participants and communication industry maintains a steady flow of information in order to prevent failures in the market. Such a regulation is enforced on cable TV by the must carry regulation which states that for any local television station to air, it must be in the network of a cable provider. This regulation was implemented first globally in the United States in 1997 by the Supreme Court. Another regulation under the Communications Act is the control of content; this regulation prohibits the transmission of obscene programs and establishes how the press must cover local events.

The Act protects new entrants into the communications market by ensuring that entry is open by regulating the fees that the local authorities and the state charge for the entry. In addition, it controls the rates and the conditions of the communication services that the public receives to ensure that they are rational. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is a body created by the Congress also under the Communications Act of 1934, as a delegation of communication control and regulations, however, they also control the standards for color television transmission.

The freedom of the press allows the press to publish any media they want, whether biased or not, however, it does not protect them from liability if they publish something libel or if a television station broadcasts a program that breaches an individual’s privacy. These possible lawsuits have made journalists restrain themselves to ethical reports and publishes.

The First Amendment forbids the making of a new law that would restrict expression, religion, petition right and assembly. The Amendment was adopted in 1791 after much debate from a number of states to include a Bill of Rights in the constitution. The reason for publishing this Amendment under the freedom of the press was because it was believed that the publishing of a person’s opinion was a natural right. The freedom provided is intended to ensure that the government exercised justice in its operations.

The Free Press Clause in the Amendment indicates that the government should not interfere, prosecute or limit an individual’s right to make an expression of an idea or opinion through any publications. Such publications, however, involve a wide range such as video games, newspapers, books and movies or plays. The Clause also protects the journalists who use social media or blogs as their platforms of expressions. The Supreme Court, however, has the mandate to define the extent to which the First Amendment can be used to protect an individual’s right in. In the event that the government intends to breach this right, the Supreme Court states that it has to properly justify the reason such an action.

The rights in the First Amendment have a limit, in that, in the event a grand jury subpoenas a journalist to provide some information, the individual does not the right to decline; this was first expressed in the case of Branzburg vs Hayes (1972). In this case, a reporter Branzburg of a courier-journal in Louisville wrote two articles supported by pictures about drug use. The sources had requested to remain anonymous, however, the grand jury subpoenaed the reporter to reveal the sources of the illegal actions that they had reported on. The argument in this case was that allowing the reporter not to testify was giving him a privilege that other citizens are not entitled to.

Changes in the Media Law

The media involves structural and contentious issues such as a television station owning newspaper company which makes it a structural issue. It could also include rules on defamation, invasion of privacy, copyrights or restraints among others. Media law applies in the fields of broadcast, imaging, digital and print media, which focus on photography, advertising, journalism, networked media or public relations. Some laws have been put in place by Congress to ensure that the media fraternity aids the government in some of its activities. Such laws include the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which was passed in Bill Clinton’s presidency in 1994 but was enforced in 1995.The state required telecommunication companies to modify and enhance their services and equipment in a way that they could allow federal agents to survey telephone and internet. It was initiated by the FBI after an argument that the evolving technology would make court mandated surveillances difficult (Federal Communications Commission, 2014).

Another change was the Cable Communications Act of 1984 which aimed at balancing powers between the Federal Communications Commission and the local authorities to regulate competition in the market. It sets the standards for franchises in an attempt to fortify the growth of the cable systems. The new law enabled companies to avoid prejudicial renewal license denials for their cable operations. After that law, there was the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act. The law established that cable operators should not charge local broadcasting stations so that they would be able to offer diverse views to the citizens. The locals would now fully rely on the available market for such diversity in information. The Act eliminated undue market power held by the cable operators and ensured that the consumers’ interests were protected.

In 1996, the Telecommunications Act was signed by Bill Clinton. The aim was to allow more entrants into the market by permitting broadcasting cross-ownership and increasing competition. The enforcement intended to merge the broadcasting and telecommunications industry after the regulatory barriers were eliminated. Another change was made in 1999 with the introduction of the Satellite Home Viewers Improvement Act, which focused on improving the choices in programming that consumers were given. It allowed multi -channel programming of videos promoting competition among satellite companies. These are some of the changes that have been made since the implementation of the Communications Act in 1934.

Framework of Communication Law

Communication Laws in the United States purpose to regulate the national and international media under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In this regard, there are various doctrines that are incorporated in the communication industry that form the legal framework of the communications industry. The philosophical, social and political principles organize how the media is absorbed into society and how it relates to the people. These policies in turn determine the decisions made during court cases and have been of importance in the structuring of the communication laws and regulations in the US.

Fairness doctrine. Introduced in 1949 by the FCC, the Fairness Doctrine required the holders of broadcast licenses to air issues of controversy that are important to the public in a balanced, honest and justifiable manner. The doctrine incorporated the issue of public trust, therefore, holders of the licenses had to be just and provide balanced coverage of the issues. The policy was developed due to the growth of the media industry especially radio. The United States Supreme Court upheld the right of the FCC to enforce the doctrine in 1969, but the commission was not obliged to do so. The doctrine requires the broadcasters to air all the responses by the parties without editing to ensure that the issue is broadcast fairly.

The application of the doctrine is seen in practice in some of the cases brought forward in the Supreme Court. In the 1969 case, Red Lion Broadcasting Co. vs. FCC, the court upheld the constitutionality of the case that involved a personal attack on Fred J. Cook. After the publication of Goldwater: Extremist of the Right, Billy James Hargis attacked the author during his daily Christian Crusade broadcast on WGBC. The author argued using the fairness doctrine in the perspective that it entitled him to have airtime to respond to the attacks, the court refused to grant him equal airtime, but the FCC supported his claim. In an appeal by the broadcaster, the court ruled in favor of Cook, the plaintiff.

The FCC repealed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, to exempt personal attacks and political editorializing rules but this was short-lived. The DC District Court concluded that the Fairness Doctrine was not in the public interest and the attempt to codify the doctrine by the Congress in 1987 was revoked. During the same year, the FCC removed the doctrine from its rulebook. The formal revocation took place in August 2011, when the FCC eliminated the language along with other rules that were outdated.

Normative media theories. The normative media theory is mainly concerned with the behavior of the media and what it is meant to do in society rather than what is actually done. The obligations of the media should be consistent with the arrangements and values in the given society. The constant rise and fall in technologies and ways of relaying information, the media industry has made the theory, uncertain in the thoughts on the traditions and the societal views on the protection of public interest. One of the aspects that govern this theory is the authoritarian theory that involves the media and public communication to be under the supervision of the government or the ruling authority. This will ensure that opinion and expressions that may undermine the political and social orders that are established can be prohibited.

Another theory under this is the theory of a free press that enables freedom of public expression and operation of the media without the involvement of the government. This theory is fully developed in the United States. This theory only functions in situations where all the issues regarding social need and media obligations are resolved. The social responsibility theory involves accountability of the media when the free press theory is put in practice. This involves the media having accountability to the society when it comes to sharing information. The media in this aspect should serve the public good.

Another theory that is only applicable in developing countries is the development media theory that purposes of press freedom, with the aspect of the social, economic and political development in practice. This theory is in practice in most of the African countries, since there is low development in the region. The alternative media theory works in favor of the media that keeps close ties with society as opposed to those that seem to be under the authority of the elite in the society or the government. The role of the alternative media, often small businesses, is to be the voice of the minority in society.

The normative theories are applied in societies according to the distinct authorities and democracies. The different media systems of the counties will incorporate a variety of theories in line with the different authorities in place. The United States exercises freedom of the press with limited government intervention. Some other countries rely on absolute freedom of the press or total subordination to the government.

Prior Restraint. Prior restraint or censorship is the aspect whereby the government imposes censorship on expression before it takes place. The alternative usually involves the government allowing the expression to take place, then take action afterward if it is found to violate the rules and the laws in place. The issue of prior restraint is not applicable to the United States as stated in the constitution. This censorship is applied in the media industry while exhibiting works that may require a license from the government before it is released to the public. This takes the form of an injunction that prohibits the publication of a specific document. The aspect of prior restraint is exercised in the sense that future publications are restricted in advance.


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Implications of the Changing Media Laws in United States
( Atlantic International University )  (SCHOOL OF SOCIAL AND HUMAN STUDIES)
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implications, changing, media, laws, united, states
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Felix Ale (Author), 2014, Implications of the Changing Media Laws in United States, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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