The Regulation, Deregulation and Ownership of Media
The Regulation, Deregulation and Ownership of Media

Society understands, and therefore seeks to check, the media’s collective power.  But each member of society will have different opinions about the methods by which, and the extent to which, the media is controlled.  Therefore, there will always be ongoing debates about regulation and deregulation.

Regulators have typically approached media from a segmented perspective, with separate regulatory entities for separate producers—such as content providers or technological services.  In the United States, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is a voluntary and widely-used system that rates films released by distributors.  Films shown on television, however, use the TV Parental Guidelines system, a voluntary system backed by the Federal Communications Commission.

Recently, however, the media industry is seeing a trend toward convergence—multiple or bundled packages of services, such as telephone, Internet and television, provided to a market using shared infrastructure, such as fiber optics (Locksley, 2009). One such service is that of Google Fiber, which uses fiber optic cables to deliver Internet at speeds up to “100 times faster” than a broadband connection. While it is currently only available in Kansas City, its market will increase incrementally in the coming years (Balke, 2013).

What do you think this will mean for separate regulatory agencies?  Should they come together or remain separate?

As a result of convergence, content that would normally be “broadcast” can now be sent through a plethora of systems—such as the Internet or mobile phones—instead of just airwaves.  For instance, while a show would be expected to follow certain decency guidelines, broadcast regulators only had authority to manage broadcasts—as opposed to say DVDs—of that show.  So although the motivations behind regulation might not have changed, it may now be more difficult to achieve the corresponding goals.

Court Tosses FCC ‘wardrobe Malfunction’ fine

During Super Bowl XXXVIII’s halftime show, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake performed together.  As an end to the duet, Timberlake, on live television, ripped part of Jackson’s bustier, exposing her right breast.  Jackson’s nipple was covered by a gold, star-shaped covering, but the FCC deemed it indecent and attempted to levy a fine.  The US Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia tossed out the fine, although the Supreme Court has recently remanded (Stout, 2009) the case back to the Third Circuit for reconsideration. In 2011 the Third Circuit found that the broadcast was legal under the ability to show “fleeting indecency” and that its earlier decision had been correct (Lee, 2011). On June 29, 2012 the Supreme Court denied an appeal by the FCC.

Also, non-traditional agents have entered the market, further complicating the situation since these agents don’t neatly fall into previous regulatory categories.  For instance, there is no search engine regulatory authority in the United States, although American firms such as Google often restrict their services in China due to that nation’s laws.  (Google is of course bound by the same US laws as any other company.  For instance, there has been talk of Google becoming a monopoly, subjecting it to anti-trust laws (Auletta, 2008). )

To learn more about google, please watch our Ask the Experts video interview with Author David Vise on his book The Google Story:


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