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Access to the Media Versus Access to Audiences: The Distinction and its Implications for Media Regulation and Policy
Unformatted Document Text:  20 in the area of access to audiences, such as characteristics of the distribution process or technologies, that can produce significant inequalities in the level of access to audiences, even in situations in which access to media outlets appears fairly equitable. The greater sensitivity characteristic of the access to audiences concept raises the inevitable possibility that the application of access to the media criterion does not meet standards established by the access to audiences criterion. A focus purely on the issue of access to the media “ignores . . . the problem of audience access. No provision is made to ensure that speakers have a meaningful opportunity to reach an audience.” 50 Thus, an approach that focuses more intently on the concept of access to audiences ultimately could be more demanding, from a First Amendment standpoint. In this regard, when policy- makers engage in their increasingly common practice of reciting an exhaustive list of media outlets and sources that are available as evidence of a media environment that well-serves the underlying values of the First Amendment, they may operating under an overly simplistic notion of the extent to which the First Amendment right of access to audiences is being well-served. For instance, the Federal Communications Commission began its Notice of Proposed Rule Making announcing a reconsideration of the broadcast station/newspaper cross-ownership rules by stating: The Commission first adopted the rule in 1975, when there were approximately 1,700 daily newspapers, 7,500 radio stations, and fewer than 1,000 TV stations. Three national commercial broadcast networks had a combined prime time audience share of 95%. Today, the multimedia environment in which broadcast stations and newspapers operate is significantly different. Although there are now fewer than 1,500 daily newspapers, there are not only many more broadcast stations, but also wholly new programming networks and distribution platforms. There are more than 12,000 radio stations, and more than 1,600 full-power TV stations. Commercial TV stations distribute the programming of 50 Zatz, supra note 4 at 189.

Authors: Napoli, Philip.
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20
in the area of access to audiences, such as characteristics of the distribution process or technologies,
that can produce significant inequalities in the level of access to audiences, even in situations in which
access to media outlets appears fairly equitable.
The greater sensitivity characteristic of the access to audiences concept raises the inevitable
possibility that the application of access to the media criterion does not meet standards established by the
access to audiences criterion. A focus purely on the issue of access to the media “ignores . . . the problem
of audience access. No provision is made to ensure that speakers have a meaningful opportunity to reach
an audience.”
50
Thus, an approach that focuses more intently on the concept of access to audiences
ultimately could be more demanding, from a First Amendment standpoint. In this regard, when policy-
makers engage in their increasingly common practice of reciting an exhaustive list of media outlets and
sources that are available as evidence of a media environment that well-serves the underlying values of
the First Amendment, they may operating under an overly simplistic notion of the extent to which the
First Amendment right of access to audiences is being well-served. For instance, the Federal
Communications Commission began its Notice of Proposed Rule Making announcing a reconsideration
of the broadcast station/newspaper cross-ownership rules by stating:
The Commission first adopted the rule in 1975, when there were approximately 1,700
daily newspapers, 7,500 radio stations, and fewer than 1,000 TV stations. Three national
commercial broadcast networks had a combined prime time audience share of 95%.
Today, the multimedia environment in which broadcast stations and newspapers operate is
significantly different. Although there are now fewer than 1,500 daily newspapers, there
are not only many more broadcast stations, but also wholly new programming networks
and distribution platforms. There are more than 12,000 radio stations, and more than
1,600 full-power TV stations. Commercial TV stations distribute the programming of
50
Zatz, supra note 4 at 189.


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