The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech or of the press.

Prior Restraint:

Attempt by government to prevent publishing in advance.


Libel and slander laws protect a person's name and reputation. In New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme court set the actual malic standard for libel suits.

1. Defames character

2. Publication

3. Identification

4. Standard of fault

Negligence - Individuals

Actual Malice - Public

Officials or figures


Privacy laws ensure a person's to be left alone. They include physical intrusion as well as publication or broadcast of information.

1. Intrusion (in private places)

2. Public disclosure of embarrassing private info

3. False light

4. Appropriation

Sunshine Laws:

Open meeting and freedom of information laws guarantee reporters' access to news and information. These laws vary widely state to state.

Children's programming.

The most recent legislation, the Children's Television Act, was passed by Congress in 1991. This act requires broadcasters to provide programming for children age twelve and under that has some instructional value. The act has also imposed limitations on the amount of commercial time in children's programming, to ten and a half minutes an hour on weekends and twelve minutes an hour on weekdays (Children's Television Act of 1990; Policies and Rules Concerning Children's Television Programming, 1993).


Broadcasting obscene material is against the law. But how does one define obscene material? Its definition comes from the Miller vs. California (1973) decision by the Supreme Court. To be obscene, the material in question must meet three criteria: (1 the average person, applying contemporary community standards, finds that the work as a whole appeals to prurient interests; (2) the work depicts or describes in an offensive way sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (3) the work lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value (also called the "LAPS" test). By and large, broadcasters avoid any programming that one might consider obscene. However, stardards are set at the local level. Local standards can be used to bring charges against obscene material. Obscene material is NOT protected speech.


1987, the FCC issued a new definition of indecent language: "language or material that depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory activities or organs" ("New Indecency Enforcement Standards," 2 FCC Rcd. 2726).

Equal time provisions (Section 315).

Section 315 of the Communications Act requires broadcasters to provide equal opportunities for all legally qualified candidates for public office. Today, the rule primarily applies to political advertising; participation by a candidate in a newscast, politically sponsored debate, or other bona fide news event is exempt from the rule. The rule specifies that stations must sell political advertising at the lowest-unit-rate (LUR) charge to qualified candidates.

Broadcasting a hoax.

On-air hoaxes have long been associated with the radio industry, dating back to the 1938 CBS broadcast of "War of the Worlds," which caused panic among many listeners. In most casees, hoaxes have been presented with no harm intended. In 1992, the FCC issued new rules regarding an on-air hoax (Broadcast Hoaxes, 1992). Essentially, the new rules forbid broadcasting of false information if three criteria apply: (1) The sender knows the information is false, (2) The broadcast of the hoax may cause public harm, and (3) Broadcasting the information does in fact cause harm. Stations guilty of braodcasting a hoax can be fined up to $10,000.


Signed by President Clinton - February 8, 1996

SUMMARY: The bill emphasizes reregulation of telephone and cable service and deregulation of broadcasting.

Local telephone companies can enter the long-distance market. But, competitors can offer local service in areas traditionally served by the "Baby Bells".

Nullifies the 1984 Consent Decree which broke up AT&T.

Raised the national TV station ownership cap to stations covering 35 per cent of the population. (The cap was 25 per cent).

Eliminates any cap on nationwide radio station ownership and permits one operator to own up to 8 radio stations in a single large market. [Radio cap was 20 AM and 20 FM.]

License period for TV is extended from 5 to 8 years, and to 8 years for radio.

Reduces likelihood of a station license challenge at renewal time.

Requires new TV sets to be equipped with a "V-Chip" device to block violent or sexual programs.

Lifts all regulation in three years for big cable systems. Rate regulations eliminated immediately on systems with less than 1 per cent of the nation's subscribers.

Permits telephone companies to sell television service via phone lines or other means. [Video-on-demand]

Lifts a ban on cross-ownership by cable and telephone companies in small communities.

Makes it a crime for on-line computer services or users to transmit indecent material without restricting minors' access.

Guarantees phone service everywhere, including remote rural areas.

Says TV stations should get valuable new broadcast spectrum for Advanced TV (ATV) free of charge. [This is subject to further debate in Congress.]

Antitrust Laws

Sherman Act--Combinations and trusts that constrain trade are illegal as are attempts to monopolize a market and fix prices.

Clayton Act--Mergers that monopolize a market are illegal as is price discrimination.

Federal Trade Commission Act--Unfair methods of competition and deceptive practices are illegal.

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