Tag Archives: broadcasting

Digital news expanding

By Christopher B. Daly

That’s one message to take from the decision by Politico (which is virtually online-only) to expand its brand of political coverage to Albany and the state government of New York.

It’s interesting to note in today’s story, that the publisher of Politico, Robert Allbritton, recently divested himself of his family’s longstanding involvement in one form of “legacy media” — television broadcasting. He recently sold the Allbritton family’s stake in seven TV stations for something like $1 billion. Rather than sit on it, he is investing in the future by branching out from Politico’s base in Washington to New York City, where Capital New York is based. From there, the online news operation covers one of the biggest state capitals in the country. Now, just 49 to go!

Here’s the Politico version.


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Filed under broadcasting, Journalism, media, Politics

TV in courtrooms? TV in statehouses?

By Christopher B. Daly

In America, where the people attempt to rule themselves, why should we not have access to even the innermost reaches of our executive, legislative and judicial branches of government? It seems to me that if we really believe in transparency, we should demand it. We should operate on the assumption that all government operations are open unless there is a really good case for closing them.

Two cases in point:

–The Whitey Bulger trial in Boston is a matter of intense interest to a couple of million people in eastern Massachusetts and lots of other individuals around the country. But we cannot watch his trial on television, because video cameras are banned from federal courts. Instead, we make do with the daily work of “sketch artists,” pursuing an odd hybrid of fine art and journalism that should have gone out of business by now. TV cameras have been operating for decades in most state-level courts, and guess what? The quality of justice in the state courts has not diminished measurably.


Boston Globe

–The recent filibuster in the Texas Legislature made a hero of state Sen. Wendy Davis (and her pink running shoes). Last week, she borrowed a tactic from conservatives and waged a real, old-fashioned filibuster in order to block a bill that would have seriously rolled back access to abortion in Texas. Yes, she was aligned politically with the liberal agenda. Yes, she was very telegenic. But the only reason that she could rise to her current level of stardom is the presence of television cameras that routinely record and transmit the people’s business being done in the legislature.

Sen. Wendy Davis faces the cameras.

Sen. Wendy Davis faces the cameras.

Obviously, we the people cannot attend every court hearing or legislative debate. For one thing, we are busy. For another, we would never all fit in the tiny public galleries available in most courtrooms or legislative chambers. We need access.

Let those cameras in!

(And if you are worried about the presence of cameras touching off an epidemic of grandstanding, forget it. Our litigators and legislators are already grandstanding every day. We’re just missing a lot of it.)

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Filed under broadcasting, Journalism, Politics, Uncategorized

Shameless self-promotion (Journalism history division)

By Christopher B. Daly

Finally, it’s here: the electronic version of my book about the history of U.S. journalism, Covering America.

Just in time for the anniversary of the rollout of the hardback, this prize-winning book is now available in all major formats:



Apple iBook, (This is the format I am checking it out on, and it looks great.)

Google Play,

you name it.

I am very pleased because I know that some folks have been waiting for the e-book. These formats make the book quite a bit cheaper and dramatically lighter! For people who don’t feel drawn to the ~$50 hardcover, here’s your chance to read Covering America. The book won the 2012 Prose Award for Media and Cultural Studies, and it has been selling well and drawing rave reviews (except for one stinker on Amazon — sheesh).

Enjoy it, and write to me about your reactions. You can comment here, or email me: chrisdaly44@gmail.com

CA cover final






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Filed under broadcasting, CNN, Covering America, David Halberstam, FCC, First Amendment, Fox News, history, Huffington Post, Journalism, journalism history, leaks, Murdoch scandal, New York Times, NPR, Photography, Photojournalism, Politics, publishing, Supreme Court, The New Yorker

A throwback?

By Christopher B. Daly

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that two broadcasters who aired material that was arguably indecent can get off on a technicality. The court ruled yesterday that the FCC, which regulates broadcasting (because broadcasting uses the electromagnetic spectrum, which we all own, collectively), did not give the broadcasters sufficient notice.

The real question is this: what the heck is the FCC still doing trying to regulate the content of television? That is a question that SCOTUS apparently decided to sidestep in the latest case.

Since Congress created the fore-runner to the FCC in 1927, the FCC has been overseeing radio, television, and other communications that use the public’s airwaves.  Leaving the merits of their decisions aside, is there any rationale for FCC interference in what can be shown on cable television (which does not use the airwaves and relies instead on entirely private property)?

The landmark case in this area remains FCC v. Pacifica — the one involving the late comedian George Carlin’s famous “seven words you can’t say on radio” skit.

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Media & politics: France v U.S.

By Chris Daly 

In France, the regulations that guarantee equal time to all major political candidates seem to be taken quite literally. Today’s Times has a story that tells of the lengths that French media regulators go to in order to follow the letter of the law. Candidates’ appearances are timed to the second and compared to each other to ensure that no one gets an unfair advantage.


The Times story compares this system to the “Fairness Doctrine,” which the FCC used to enforce on American news media. Actually, the French system sounds more like a different FCC policy, the “equal time rule,” which went out in 1960.

Here’s an excerpt from my new book, Covering America, about the end of the “equal time” rule in 1960:

In the fall of 1960, many Americans were still in the process of getting to know Jack Kennedy. Just forty-three years old, he represented the World War II generation, declaring himself ready to take over from Eisenhower, the very man who had commanded the young troops in wartime. Kennedy was not only young, he was also rich, good-looking, and married to a very photogenic wife. With his distinctive accent, his cool demeanor, and his ironic wit, he was well suited to the new medium that was about to make its mark on American politics in a dramatic way—television. Just in time for the 1960 election, Congress had passed a law repealing the FCC’s “equal time” rule, which had required broadcasters to give equal amounts of air time to all candidates for office, including fringe candidates and cranks. In 1960, for example, there were more than a dozen political parties offering candidates for president. It would have been impossible—and perhaps illegal—for a broadcaster to hold a debate that excluded any of them. In a step that went a long way toward perpetuating the dominance of the two major parties, Congress decided to lift that ban for the 1960 campaign and to have the FCC study the issue. When the new law was signed on August 24, 1960, the way was clear for the networks to approach the Democrat Kennedy and the Republican Nixon and offer them an exclusive one-on-one format for the first televised presidential debate in history.

The challenger, Kennedy, promptly agreed. . .


CBS News/Getty





And here’s a longer excerpt that addresses the rationale for using government power to regulating broadcasting in the first place, despite the Constitutional ban on governmental limits on free speech.

Meanwhile, though, with the proliferation of stations sending out signals in the mid-1920s, there arose what some people considered a problem. In more and more places, radio signals were interfering with one another, causing static and defeating the whole purpose of broadcasting. To make matters worse, some broadcasters built supertransmitters intended to overwhelm any weaker signal operating at the same frequency. In response, some broadcasters would move their signal to a different frequency, to avoid being “jammed” by a more powerful rival. As a result, listeners would have to search around the dial to find their favorite station. By 1925 there were some ten thousand stations sending out signals, with no sign of any slowdown. The existing law required a license, but it did not allow the government to deny one to anybody. Hoover and many broadcasters saw this “chaos” on the airwaves as a major crisis. The result was a drive for federal legislation.

But first there was an issue to be addressed: What business did Congress have regulating this area in the first place? Specifically, what about the free speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment? Didn’t the Constitution explicitly state that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press? Certainly, it was argued, when the Founders drafted that language, they meant to protect all speech, in all media. In the 1780s, when Jefferson and his contemporaries used the word “press,” they were referring to the entire array of mass communication then in existence: books, magazines, and newspapers. Now that a new medium had come along, why shouldn’t that technology enjoy the same protections granted the traditional print press, and for the same reasons? Radio could play an equally important role in our constitutional scheme as newspapers or magazines, but only if it was equally free.

By contrast, Hoover and his allies made the case for regulating radio on the basis of what they saw as fundamental differences between the press and radio that placed the two media on different constitutional grounds. First, they said, radio exists as a result of waves that pass through the ether—that is, the electromagnetic spectrum. That spectrum is a unique public resource, and the portion of it that exists above the territory of the United States belongs to the American people. Furthermore, they said, the airwaves were not like the frontier lands of the American past, which were surveyed and sold or given away to settlers. The spectrum could be measured and divided, but it was not for sale. This idea is sometimes referred to as “listener sovereignty,” meaning that the listeners have a collective ownership over the spectrum, which gives the public the right to control it. In addition, said the advocates of regulation, the spectrum has another inherent quality that differentiates it from the traditional press: it has only so much bandwidth. As a result, within any geographic area there is a physical limit on the number of radio signals that can be transmitted without interference. This “spectrum scarcity” means that someone must serve as a gatekeeper, allowing some people to use the spectrum and keeping others out. In radio there is a natural saturation point beyond which no one can enter without harming someone else. For that reason, radio was different from the press, since it is possible to have a practically unlimited number of publications circulating in the same area without impinging on one another. With these arguments, the regulators swept aside any constitutional objections and turned to making laws that would abridge the freedom of the airwaves.

The result was the far-reaching Radio Act of 1927. . .

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Filed under broadcasting, Journalism, journalism history

The business end

of the media business is at stake in a new auction being planned by the FCC. Here’s an update from today’s Boston Globe.

Here is a link to the FCC website (which should have been supplied by the Globe but was not).

Here is a pretty good Wikipedia backgrounder (which also should have been a link in the Globe article; Sheesh, don’t they realize they are publishing on the web?).

Here’s an incredibly complicated visual rendering of spectrum allocation.


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Filed under broadcasting, FCC, regulation