Theory and Research in Mass Communication: Contexts and Consequences

By David K. Perry | Go to book overview

5
Media Ownership and Theories
of Media Content

Legislative and public debates in the United States often display one narrow focus: They treat the current ownership system of mass communication as a given. For example, popular commentators and politicians argue about the effects of media violence and possible regulatory responses, usually without questioning the commercial nature of U. S. TV. The debates concerning the 1996 Telecommunications Act illustrate this tendency. It updated the 1934 Communications Act, placing it among the most important federal laws of that decade. According to critics, its purpose “is to deregulate all communication industries and to permit the market, not public policy, to determine the course of the information highway and the communications system” (McChesney, 1997, p. 42). In Congress, discussion ranged from the position of Newt Gingrich to that of then-Vice President A1 Gore. Gingrich equated profitability and public service, and Gore said markets can solve public concerns once corporate profitability is assured (McChesney, 1997). This focus has existed since the failure of the broadcast reform movement during the 1930s. That movement attempted to ensure the dominance of nonprofit radio. McChesney (1993) provided a detailed historical account.


PATTERNS AND THEORIES OF MEDIA OWNERSHIP

Of course, in the United States, the mass media operate almost entirely as for-profit businesses. The few exceptions largely involve public radio and television, which attract rather small audiences. This is not true everywhere, however. In the United Kingdom, license fees fund the government-chartered, nonprofit British Broadcasting Corporation. It carries no

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