Media and Policy: Is Broadcast Regulation Still Viable Public Policy?

From the words of Marcel Danesi, Professor of Semiotics and Anthropology at the University of Toronto as stated in the Middlebury College webpage: “[C]ommunication theorists generally focus more on the study of message-making as a process, whereas semioticians center their attention more on what a message means and on how it creates meaning” (Danesi, 1994).

Semiotics has been functional, with fascinating results, to movies, stage dramas, medicine, structural design, zoology, and a multitude of other subjects that are engage in the exchange of ideas and the transmission of information. As a matter of fact, some semioticians, in a sense of being carried away, insinuate that everything can be considered semiotically; they refer to semiotics as the royalty of the interpretative sciences, the origin of the denotations of things in different shapes and sizes (Berger, Signs in Contemporary Culture: An Introduction to Semiotics).

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A subjective and provisional severance is completed linking content and form in semiotic analysis, and awareness is converged on the arrangement of signs that structure content.  An essential insight is that concepts have implications because of relationships, and the necessary association is antagonistic.

The correlation of the signifier from signified is random, uninterested, and aberrant. There is no rational association between a signifier and signified, making the search for meaning embedded in texts fascinating and challenging.  The meanings in signs and in texts are not all the time palpable; they have to be drawn out from the context.

In Encarta Dictionary 2008, rhetoric is defined as “the study of methods employed in writing and speaking effectively, with the end goal of persuasion via communication.”  Conventionally, people talking about rhetorical analysis have five articles to take into account when coming across content: the author(s), target audience(s), textual stratagem, pressing context, and bigger perspective.  All these five articles coincide and influence one another.

For example, I, the author, am writing this research paper for my professor, or my audience.  Everything written in this paper is affected by the articles I have read, containing what my intention is: the extent of knowledge the readers and myself have with regards to the paper’s topic.  The content is also influenced by the immediate context, or way I type it, the time I allocated for its completion, the availability or unavailability of resources, and the mood I am in while typing this research paper.

This paper aims to study the viability of broadcast regulations in the United States in a semiotic and rhetorical way.

The Nature of Broadcasting

Broadcasting has evolved next to imaginary position to being the leading and all-encompassing medium of mass communication. A total of 9,911 commercial radio and television sta­tions operated in 1987.  Radio was utilized in 99 percent and more of the homes in the United States, with a recorded mean of 5.6 radio units per family.  Television was set up in more than 98 percent of U.S.’s homes. There was at least 1.90 sets per household.

Before the start of the 1900s, radio was largely investigational and development-oriented.  The initial viable use of the radio in this country was purposes regarding state defense, when the U.S. Navy utilized its wireless capability to send orders to their fleets.  The commercial use of radio started after the First World War.  The first stations were built in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.  Network broadcasting was introduced in 1926, joining radio stations together.  In 1940, radio expanded to FM, or frequency modulation, from its ascendant, the AM, or amplitude modulation.  The services rendered by AM stations deemed leading until recently when the demand from FM license application rose.

Broadcasting Regulation in the U.S.

Growing extensively over the years, the American people take delivery of information commencing from electronic media.  Sixty to seventy percent of them say that the television is their ultimate source of news, local national, or global.  The broadcast industry, as compared to the print media industry, is faced with federal regulation almost from its nativity several years back.  Regulating broadcasting is warranted because the available frequencies in a given broadcast continuum are narrow and limited.

Hypothetically, any person with access to a mass printing mechanism are able to produce and distribute informational print media like magazines, newspapers, brochures and the like.  However, not everyone, whether complete with internal and external facilities, are able to broadcast.  In the first place, access to facilities is also limited.

There are arguments that the new and widely accessed technology allows considerable access to broadcasting, therefore stating that the Constitutional differences between print and electronic media are null.  The First Amendment then is considered unsuitable and damaged.

The First Amendment is settled in the American system as an acknowledgment of the supreme magnitude of the free exchange of ideas to the people’s independence.  The First Amendment’s provisions of freedom of speech and press are instated to avert inevitable intervention with the exchange of private and public information, especially if the populace is to decide on public representatives and determining appropriate policy.

However, there are almost no cases that someone has argued with the total non-regulation of broadcasting.  There are regulatory policies governing fairness, personal attacks, equal opportunity and such that see the need to be promptly regulated.  These regulatory practices and policies, however, heave the gravest questions against the First Amendment; debates arise on whether the government be involved in the non-technical aspects of broadcasting, especially to decision-makings affecting news content and type of broadcasting.

Radio Act of 1910

There are speculations as to which was the first legislation in radio in America: the Wireless Ship Act of 1910 or the Radio Act of 1912.  The formation of the Act was impelled by an unfaithful shipping accident that happened in 1909.  The 1910 Act was absolutely and exclusively concerned of the utilization of communication media aboard ships and motor vessels, and therefore proved to be of little significance with regards to the growth of radio in the 1920s.  However, instead of assuaging the existent problems of those years, the Act has in fact aggravated the problem.  There were multiple interferences overlapping every frequency that it was a chore to distinguish a fake distress call from a real one.

Radio Act of 1912

The motivation for the 1912 Radio Act was given ultimatum with the sinking of the Titanic in April 15, 1912; investigations show that the efforts of rescuing the passengers of the ship on its maiden voyage were hindered by the congestion of ship-to-shore radio signals.  It has promoted confusion, as stated in Douglas’ book titled, Inventing American Broadcasting, years 1899 to 1922:

Shortly after the initial distress message from the Titanic, wireless stations all along the East Coast of North America clogged the air with traffic. The Marconi Company complained about the interference, and out of this congestion finally emerged the false news that the Titanic was moving safely toward Halifax. In the aftermath of the tragedy many people hoped the perpetrator of what they thought was a hoax would be caught and executed. One calmer explanation is that a message from the steamship Asian, “Towing oil tank to Halifax,” was mistaken for a message about the Titanic passengers. Still, the press and government officials took this incident as an incentive to begin more-systematic regulation of the airwaves.

The mainland frequencies blocked the incoming of the ship signals, and instead of delivering fast action, it held back rescue operations.  The Radio Act of 1912 is set to assign three- and four-letter codes to broadcasting stations and confines information dissemination to the 360 meter wavelength, which entangles signals.  The Secretary of Commerce and Labor at that time had no freedom of choices as to refusing license to radio applicants that meet set qualifications.

Radio Act of 1927

Because of the Radio Act of 1912’s failure to decongest the airwaves of the jamming of signals, the Radio Act of 1927 is commenced.  The objective of the 1927 Act is to bring order to the hellish providence of radio broadcasting.  The development of the Act involved issues regarding free speech.  The Congressmen later came to a decision in favor of the Progressive ideas of attention.  It has come to limit free speech.  Upon later investigation, it was found that the Congressmen feared the radio’s power to initialize political or social reform, extend the reach of offensive speech and dominate public opinions (Goodman, The Radio Act of 1927 as a Product of Progressivism).  The Act formed the Federal Radio Commission, or FRC; they are tasked to regulate and control traffic, keeping in mind that broadcasting is carried out accordingly (Labunski 7).  The derivation of this Act began in the efforts of the U.S. Navy to thrust the nation to supremacy in terms of Intercontinental Communications.  They formed foreign ownership rules that hinder the use of wireless communication as an offense in war, although it was often assumed that it blocks the use of radio as a material for propaganda.  This has brought powerful transoceanic radio stations with the American hegemony.  This intercontinental ambition of the Navy has alerted the cooperation of private industries to extend the Western authority across countries.  As a result, foreign ownership regulations form a bond in the succession of measures that connect the Radio Act of 1912, the government ownership stratagem of the U.S. Navy, and the establishment of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA).

The Federal Communications Commission

The two fundamental requirements in the Radio Act of 1927 were the foundation of an innovative government commission and it’s authorization to make conformance of radio in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.”  An independent broadcast regulatory agency was fashioned in 1934.  It was called the Federal Radio Commission (FRC), later renamed to Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  The agency, developed after the Interstate Commerce Commission and also the Federal Trade Commission (Goodman, The Radio Act of 1927 as a Product of Progressivism), was made available with organizational fortification intended to protect it from political stresses and demands.  “Public interest, convenience, and necessity,” is the mantra of the five appointed disinterested commissioners to head the work and regulation of radio broadcasting.  The quotation is a Progressive term accessed from value directive but was on no account definite in the Radio Act of 1927.

The FCC was at no cost to manage broadcasting to provide no matter what benefits it reckoned were contained by the extent of public interest, expediency and stipulation as long as the commission did not refute and disprove “free speech” to broadcasters and journalists. Conversely, the U.S. Congress restricted free speech in the subsequent declaration stating that no one inclusive of the United States’ federal authority shall articulate any profane language using the radio as a means of communication.  The FCC functions in a multifaceted political atmosphere.  The society was structured into three primary divisions, including Broadcast, Telegraph, and Telephone.  It is predominantly imperative to scrutinize the environment in which broadcasting policy resolutions are made because the Commission is accountable for the substantial responsibility of regulating communication media.

Sanctioned involvement into broadcast matter expected a premature constitutional improvement when the Supreme Court finally inflicted upon the FCC that the agency does more than an officer of traffic in the engineering and technical concepts of radio broadcasting.  Twenty-five years have passed before the Supreme Court took into consideration the fairness regulation issues raised in the First Amendment.  The office concluded, in lieu of the limited broadband spectrum available for the growing number of radio frequencies, that the government is allowed to situate manacles on licensees in support of others whose viewpoints should be articulated on this distinctive channel.”

In the provisional term, the Congress and the FCC correspondingly had convened and disseminated necessities projected to smooth the progress of wide-ranging, unbiased and impartial reporting of communal concerns.

The Communications Act of 1934

The Congress had previously ratified several most important portions of legislation in the year 1934 alone.  The titles of the documents of the Acts that was endorsed at the time were on every American’s thought.  Nevertheless, the Communications Act stands in the present day as one of the most lifelong legacies of the Roosevelt era.  It has promoted and formed what was now the Communications Age.

The spirit of the Communications Act is its apparent stress on the most formidable interest of the public.  The wagers are too high, whatever the enticements to dispose of this impression; all administrative accomplishment with reference to communications would be without meaning if public interest is disregarded.

The Communications Act of 1934 remains up to date as the foundation stone of regulation of broadcast media in the United States.  It has undergone an age of extraordinary changes in both technical and social aspects of broadcasting.  The 1934 Act produced modest disagreement at the instance it was well thought-out.  Only some projected significant modification of the public and profit-making broadcast structure determined in the 1927 act.  Several reviewers articulated concern about instructive radio’s continued existence. Despite the fact that the Congress authorized the new FCC to think about keeping and relocating some frequencies for stations involved in educational broadcasting, this just transpired in 1941 alongside the endorsement of the FM service.

In the Commemorative Messages written by Newton M. Minow (in Paglin, page xv), he declared that:

Where this Age of Communications will take us remains impossible to predict. But we do know that the Communications Act of 1934 has proven to be extraordinarily flexible; the task of replacing it would be unthinkably difficult. Indeed, it took technological development of global proportions, i.e., satellite communications, before the first substantive amendment to the Communications Act was required. In 1962, the Congress passed the Communications Satellite Act to give the Commission the necessary additional authority to regulate this new form of communications technology. Also, for the first time, it spelled out the role of the President in directing the foreign relations aspects inherent in global satellite communication.

The act has been restructured and organized from beginning to end by amendment and revision several times.  The amendments were done and patterned predominantly with conception of public television in 1967 and the Cable Act of 1984.

The Role of the Federal Communications Commission

The most important prevailing concern in broadcast communication standards and criteria procedures is not essentially technical and scientific.  It is concerned primarily on how the FCC supervises and manages courses of action and guidelines.  Even if there were correspondences, the FCC strategy and system became the foundation for the supreme dissimilarities between the improvement and expansion of color television, Frequency Modulation stereo, Amplitude Modulation stereo, Multi-channel TV Sound or MTS, Digital Audio Broadcasting, and Digital Television.

AM stereo, was an inopportune casualty of the Congress’s bad timing (Huff 185); its promotion was hindered by the controversial proceedings on the deregulation of radio in the years 1979 until 1981.  The FCC highlights that the lifting of the government’s authority of radio broadcasting was about eradicating superfluous regulations and dipping red tape inconveniences on broadcasters.  Not a single broadcaster disapproved of the paperwork diminutions, but the disinclination of FCC to lay down broadcast principles was deplorable.  As broadcasters erudite from the lessons of what the AM stereo had gone through, they ought to form their personal providences.  The example was given and soon paid attention to, as substantiated mutually by MTS and the DTV Grand Alliance, which, in effect, consequential in promotional values.

The FCC has preserved and upheld its interchange cop strategy of policing only methodological strictures since the year 1982.  The Federal Communications Commission has preferred no paradigm that is not an amalgam of other than one system or that has not had the agreement of broadcasters; with the exception of when the Congress required the FCC to single out an AM stereo touchstone in 1993.  This has lead to the emergence of a new regulatory model called AMstereoization (Huff 185).

Works Cited

 “Marcel Danesi.” Middlebury College.  15 July 2008 <>

Berger, Arthur Asa. Signs in contemporary culture: An introduction to semiotics. (2nd ed.). 1998. Salem, WI: Sheffield.

Danesi, Marcel.  “Messages and Meanings: An Introduction to Semiotics.”  Canadian Scholars Press.

Douglas, Susan.  Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899-1922.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

Dreher, Carl.  Sarnoff: An American Success.  New York: Quadrangle, 1977.

Goodman, Mark.  “Abstract.”  The Radio Act of 1927 as a Product of Progressivism.  Mississippi State University.  16 July 2008.  <>.

Huff, W. A. Kelly.  Regulating the Future: Broadcasting Technology and Governmental Control.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001.  p. 8, Questia, 16 July 2008 <>.

Labunski, Richard E.  “A Constitutional Distinction Between Print and Media: Is It Obsolete?”  The First Amendment under Siege: The Politics of Broadcast Regulation. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981.  p. 6-23, Questia, 16 July 2008 <>.

Lively, Donald E.  Essential Principles of Communications Law.  New York: Praeger Publishers, 1992.  p. 226, Questia, 17 July 2008 <>.

Messere, Fritz.  “U.S. Regulatory Commission.”  Federal Communications Commission.  The Museum of Broadcast Communications, 17 July 2008. <>

Paglin, Max D., ed.  A Legislative History of the Communications Act of 1934.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.  Questia, 17 July 2008 <>.

Schulzinger, Robert I.  American Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1984

Simmons, Steven J.  “Fairness Doctrine: The Early History.” 29 The Federal Communications Bar Journal (1976): 15.

Sterling, Christopher H. “U.S.  Communications Policy Legislation.)  U.S. Policy: The Communications Act of 1934.  The Museum of Broadcast Communications, 17 July 2008 <>.

Zajacz, Rita.  “Liberating American Communications: Foreign Ownership Regulations from the Radio Act of 1912 to the Radio Act of 1927.”  Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 48.2, 2004.   Questia, 16 July 2008. <>.


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