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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:  21 seven national commercial networks, and cable television systems and satellite carriers distribute multiples of that number. In the current 2000-2001 TV season just completed, the four largest broadcast networks have a combined prime time audience share of 50% and basic cable networks have a combined prime time audience share of 42%. This proceeding seeks comment on the relevance of the various changes in the multimedia environment to the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule. 51 This description certainly provides an important indication of the extent to which the media environment has changed and the opportunities for access to the media have increased. However, such a description represents only the most rudimentary level of analysis in terms of determining the extent to which there is an equitable distribution of the right of access to audiences and whether policy remedies to improve the situation may be needed. The Supreme Court’s decision in Turner suggests that policies that reduce the levels of access to audiences for some speakers may be constitutional. In upholding the must-carry rules, the Court acknowledged that some speakers (i.e., cable networks), would have their level of access to audiences reduced due to their diminished cable carriage, but that such a reduction was acceptable in light of the benefits that that the must-carry rules brought to viewers in the form of a greater diversity of sources of information and in the form of local sources and information. In this regard, the arguments and analysis surrounding the Turner decision follow precedent in that there was very little focus on the extent to which the must-carry rules potentially promoted the First Amendment rights of speakers, only on the extent to which they potentially promoted the First Amendment rights of audiences. 52 Concerns regarding broadcasters’ access to audiences were considered primarily from an economic standpoint (i.e., the possible economic harms that could come from reduced audience reach) rather than from a First 51 Federal Communications Commission, In the matter of cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers; newspaper/radio cross-ownership waiver policy, MM Docket 01-234, 96-197, 1-2. 52 See Justice Breyer’s concurring statement for a discussion of the collectivist First Amendment values served by the must-carry decision, supra note 47 at 225-226.

Authors: Napoli, Philip.
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21
seven national commercial networks, and cable television systems and satellite carriers
distribute multiples of that number. In the current 2000-2001 TV season just completed,
the four largest broadcast networks have a combined prime time audience share of 50%
and basic cable networks have a combined prime time audience share of 42%. This
proceeding seeks comment on the relevance of the various changes in the multimedia
environment to the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule.
51
This description certainly provides an important indication of the extent to which the media environment
has changed and the opportunities for access to the media have increased. However, such a description
represents only the most rudimentary level of analysis in terms of determining the extent to which there is
an equitable distribution of the right of access to audiences and whether policy remedies to improve the
situation may be needed.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Turner suggests that policies that reduce the levels of access to
audiences for some speakers may be constitutional. In upholding the must-carry rules, the Court
acknowledged that some speakers (i.e., cable networks), would have their level of access to audiences
reduced due to their diminished cable carriage, but that such a reduction was acceptable in light of the
benefits that that the must-carry rules brought to viewers in the form of a greater diversity of sources of
information and in the form of local sources and information. In this regard, the arguments and analysis
surrounding the Turner decision follow precedent in that there was very little focus on the extent to which
the must-carry rules potentially promoted the First Amendment rights of speakers, only on the extent to
which they potentially promoted the First Amendment rights of audiences.
52
Concerns regarding
broadcasters’ access to audiences were considered primarily from an economic standpoint (i.e., the
possible economic harms that could come from reduced audience reach) rather than from a First
51
Federal Communications Commission, In the matter of cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers;
newspaper/radio cross-ownership waiver policy, MM Docket 01-234, 96-197, 1-2.
52
See Justice Breyer’s concurring statement for a discussion of the collectivist First Amendment values served by
the must-carry decision, supra note 47 at 225-226.


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