Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Constitution of the Air Chapter 10

"Many of the choices about radio involved translating basic principles about rights and powers in communication into a new context" (p. 329)
The Radio Act of 1927 was the most famous context in which the rights and powers of radio were addressed. The act had three main aspects. The first was the declaration that there could be no private ownership in the entire spectrum. Although the 1912 act had required a license to use the air, it had been silent on the issue of ownership of the airwaves. The 1927 act was not. Second, the act, in a related decision, mandated that users of the spectrum would operate and receive a license under the public interest standard. Finally, the act put the Federal Radio Commission into place.The FRC was to allocate frequencies according to the "public interest, convenience or necessity," a phrase that originated with an amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act. Yet radio programming is not comparable with the services of a railroad company. Unlike the railroads that the Interstate Commerce Act regulated, the FRC could not regulate individual programs: conceivably, such regulation could amount to nothing more than censorship. Nor could the commission set the rates charged for airtime. The FRC's limited programming authority resulted at least in part from the fear of a federal radio "censor." The creation of an independent radio commission, rather than an augmented authority within the Commerce Department, would limit governmental interference in expression. Therefore, what the public interest meant was left to the FRC to decide.


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