Under the United States Constitution, the First Amendment protects free speech from government restriction or interference. Yet government has a significant oversight role for a variety of media. In his new book, America’s Battle for Media Democracy, Victor Pickard asks how well public policy has served the public interest or only protected private business.
In 2014, the so-called “net neutrality” debate has focused attention on ways that government, specifically the Federal Communications Commission, can or should regulate media companies and their business practices. In the 1940s, the FCC similarly weighed in on the future direction for radio, the dominant broadcast media of that era. The policy decisions made then, says Prof. Pickard of the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, not only shaped what America heard over the air, but also forged a path favoring property rights over the right to free access of information.
“I am sympathetic with many of the 1940s media policy reform efforts. In my view, reformers were attempting to create a media system more aligned with the liberal democratic ideals upon which the United States was purportedly founded,” Pickard writes in an introduction. “My analysis leads me to believe that the corporate libertarian position – which, save for a few significant exceptions, became the dominant policy paradigm – has set the American media system on a dangerous trajectory.”
Victor Pickard is an Assistant Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication. His research explores the intersections of U.S. and global media activism and politics, the history and political economy of media institutions, and the normative foundations of media policy. Before coming to Annenberg, he was an assistant professor in the media, culture, and communication department at New York University. Previously he worked on media policy in Washington, D.C. as a senior research fellow at the media reform organization Free Press and the public policy think tank the New America Foundation.