8.2 Structure of the Mass Media and Government Regulation
In recent years, mass media has faced sharp criticism of the trend towards their control by relatively small groups of individuals. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) funds public radio and public television, but it forms a small share of the market. Partial freedom from government control is one of the characteristics of private ownership. Private ownership of the media spells a considerable amount of freedom from government control.
Cross-channel ownership is another feature of the mass media, since some newspapers and magazines are associated in common ownership with radio and television stations as, for example, Time Incorporation and the Hearst group.
8.2a Concentration in the mass media
Rising costs, changing population patterns and
consolidation of rival newspapers, has resulted in more one-paper
cities in the Untied States, than in earlier on. However competitive
pressure from the other news media has resulted in "monopoly"
publishers like Gannett showing a strong sense of public responsibility
in the material published. The major TV networks are the American
Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the Columbia Broadcasting System
(CBS) and the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) which have spun
electronic webs across the continent, dominating the stations as
they provide most of the programming. However, their affiliate stations
are not owned by them and new networks like Fox Television and the
Cable News Network (CNN) prove to be tough competition.
8.2b Hard news versus entertainment
A Great deal of time and money is spread by television and radio alike, to keep their audiences abreast of the news of the day. In newspapers, "human interest" news is always in demand, together with non-news entertainment material such as comic strips, puzzles, humorous columns, women’s sections and travel articles. Readers also turn to the television for entertainment: TV stations now face the criticism that more time is given to programs like ’Hard Copy’ and ’Inside Edition’ and that more news programs cater to human interest stories, rather than to covering political news.
The first amendment to the Constitution included freedom of
press along the basic liberties that the Congress could not violate.
Thus freedom to print became an accepted principle in America. According
to American judicial interpretation, prior restraint violates press
freedom. Thus the court in 1925 held the Minnesota law unconstitutional
because it permitted prior restraint. Similarly in 1971, the Supreme
Court refused to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers,
documents on American policy in Vietnam. The newspaper is permitted
to publish what it desires in the news, editorial or advertising
columns, subject only to public opinion and the laws of libel and
obscenity. However, owing to its peculiar structure, broadcasting
needs to be regulated.
8.2c Regulation of radio and television
In the earlier days of the radio, a major problem
faced was that many stations operated on the same frequency thus
jamming each other’s signals. In 1927, a five-man Federal Radio
Commission was established by the Congress, with the power to regulate
all forms of radio communication. In 1934, a seven-member Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) was established by the Federal Communications
Act, in order to regulate the airwaves in the interest of the public.
A single licensee is forbidden by the Federal Communications
Commission to hold more than one radio and one television license
in each community. The FCC also limits the total number of licenses
one person or firm can hold. Further, equal time has to be provided
for rival candidates for political office. This is called the equal