Advocacy Groups and the Entertainment Industry

By Michael Suman; Gabriel Rossman | Go to book overview

10
Gatekeeping in the Neo-Network Era

Michael Curtin

Access to prime time television historically has been one of the key concerns of advocacy groups in the United States. Consequently, many advocates and others have perceived network gatekeepers as playing especially powerful roles because they ultimately determine what is produced and broadcast nationwide. Although advocacy groups and public policy makers periodically attempt to influence the decision-making process, corporate officials shape the contours of popular culture and information on a daily basis. To many critics, this means that television content is driven by commercial considerations that result in a bland homogeneity. Quality programming that does exist is, in their eyes, merely an unintended by-product of the system. These critics conclude that advocacy groups should challenge the concentration of media ownership and struggle for control over prime time television.

This essay argues, on the other hand, that television has changed dramatically over the past two decades and that a diverse menu of programming is more readily available than ever before. Moreover, corporate executives today exercise far less control over media content than their counterparts did during television's classical network era of the 1960s. Instead, the average consumer is confronted by a blizzard of options, creating both uncertainty for corporate executives and opportunities for public advocacy groups. Given the current conditions, the challenge for advocacy groups is less a matter of struggling over access to a few hours of prime time than it is to help citizens make sense of the options available to them. Yet these new opportunities can be realized only if advocates understand the logic of the neo-network era, a logic that is best revealed by examining the changing nature of gatekeeping practices in the media industries. This essay begins with an anecdote about reputedly the most powerful media mogul of our time and then moves backward to compare the recent actions of News Corporation executives with the actions of an earlier era. Such historical comparisons will help to reveal the institutional conditions that frame the work of contemporary advocacy groups.

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