Advocacy Groups and the Entertainment Industry

By Michael Suman; Gabriel Rossman | Go to book overview

8
Influencing Media Content Through the Legal System: A Less Than Perfect Solution for Advocacy Groups

Rex S. Heinke and Michelle H. Tremain1


INTRODUCTION

Criticism of the contents of newspapers, movies, television broadcasts, and other media appears with increasing frequency. Discontent has been expressed both with regard to the media's portrayal of groups and individuals and with their treatment of a broad range of issues. As evidenced by the recent boycott of the Walt Disney Company by the Southern Baptists, those who are unhappy with the media's content do have means to make their displeasure known. Attempts to influence the media's content through the legal system, however, which is the subject of this paper, are currently unlikely to be successful for several reasons. First, although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has in the past provided means for influencing the content of broadcasts, this traditional method of content control is falling by the wayside. Second, courts have not been receptive to attempts to control newspaper content through methods similar to those used by the FCC. Third, courts have refused to compel government broadcasters to air particular programming. Fourth, the Supreme Court has imposed severe limitations on the government's ability to censor films. Finally, attempts to thwart derogatory portrayals of groups through suits for defamation are not likely to be successful because constitutional, common law, and statutory restrictions have been imposed on such suits. As a result, those dissatisfied with the media's content are increasingly unlikely to influence that content through lawsuits or other legal proceedings.


CONTROL OF TELEVISION

One traditional method of gaining access for alternative viewpoints has been through the regulations imposed on broadcasters by the FCC. The Communications Act of 1934 gave the FCC authority to regulate broadcasting through renewable licenses issued to those serving the "public convenience, interest, or necessity."2 In

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