the media


As the "fourth estate" of democracy and the centerpiece of American culture, the media is a frequent battleground between those who'd like the government to control the media more, those who prefer greater freedom for the media and those who, paradoxically, want the government to protect the media's freedom. In recent years, lawmakers have debated how much reporters should be shielded from revealing their sources, how much broadcasters should be fined for naughty content and how much the FCC should restrict media corporations from buying up news sources. On this page, you'll find basics on the last two issues.

Media ownership

Arguing that cable, digital TV and the internet have radically changed the media playing field in the US, the Federal Communications Commission decided in 2003 it was time to loosen the old rules on media ownership (see the chart below). A motley crew of advocates, from MoveOn to the NRA, banded together to stop the 2003 FCC changes (through political pressure and lawsuits) – but Congress ended up easing some of the regulations itself, albeit more gently.

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network decency

Bill in Brief

After America got a glimpse of Janet Jackson's nationally televised "wardrobe malfunction" in 2004, Congress started on a mission to increase fines for networks that didn't follow decency rules.

A couple of years on the House and the Senate finally passed and "indecency" bill that raises the amount a network can be fined for a decency violation - up from $35,000 to $325,000. The bill was signed by the president in June 2006.

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telecom bill

Bill in Brief

The House passed a broad revamp of the Telecommunications Act in June 2006 - which never made its way through committee in the Senate before the 2006 elections. Now with a shift in leadership in 2007, it's possible the Dems will scrap much of the bills and start from scratch.

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internet neutrality

Issue in Brief

Everyone seems to be talking about internet neutrality. From the ‘father of the internet,' Vint Cerf (who testified before congress on the subject) to Senator Clinton, to a whole chorus of think tanks, newspapers and blogs, ‘net neutrality' has become quite the buzzword lately. Many want to write it into law, others want think Congress should keeps hands off, but few seem to know exactly what it is.

Really important background info: there's some stuff you've just got to know first.

  • Telecommunications companies (think Qwest, AT&T, or Verizon) and internet service providers (ISPs, like Comcast, Time-Warner Cable, and others) own most of the backbone of the internet. All ‘net traffic goes through their cables.

  • When we buy internet access, we either buy it from these companies, or from another company that does. When a ‘web content provider (like Amazon, Yahoo, or even citizenJoe) buys internet access, it works in exactly the same way—they just pay more for a connection that can carry more data.

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