Communications and Community

Author:Monroe E. Price

Page 469

The essence of community?indeed, its sine qua non?is communications. In terms of constitutionalism, the question arises as to the role of government intervention in the structure of BROADCASTING and other forms of communication to foster or reshape communities. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States has, for example, encouraged minority ownership of broadcast channels or, more directly, minority-related programming, as a means (in part) of strengthening certain notions of community. In Europe, the Television Without Frontiers Directive imposed European quotas on national broadcasters to help frame a European information space. In some highly restricted societies that consider control of imagery essential to a notion of community?such as Iran and Iraq?government intervention to affect the pictures and words that swirl into the minds of its citizens is an important art form.

"Community" has informed much of American broadcast policy. It is reflected in the original allocation patterns of radio frequencies. In 1927, and then again in 1934, Congress determined that each local community should have a radio station?that allocations should be designed not to favor a regional or national market, but one that has local roots. This pattern of allocation of licenses based on cities and towns, rather than vast regions, was the chief characteristic of the 1954 Table of Allocations for television frequencies, and it is that pattern that is the imprint of broadcasting in the United States today. In a famous FCC publication, the 1947 Blue Book, the Commission stressed the importance of the broadcaster as a "mouth-piece" for the community, and local management and ownership were big advantages in contested applications for licenses.

One haunting question, always, was whether this emphasis on community was a sham?merely a way for congressional representatives to deliver wealth to individuals within their districts?with the inevitable rise of national impersonal networks and the transfer of licenses to impersonal chains or groups. Artifacts of community included, for example, a requirement that station management go through a formal ascertainment process, asking local leaders what issues were important to the community, with the assumption that this survey would yield coverage in news. But ascertainment was mechanical, and, often, there was no enforcement mechanism to ensure that community needs were met.

A combination of...

To continue reading