Media regulation is the control or guidance of mass media by governments and other bodies. This regulation, via law, rules or procedures, can have various goals, for example intervention to protect a stated "public interest", or encouraging competition and an effective media market, or establishing common technical standards.
The principal targets of media regulation are the press, radio and television, but may also include film, recorded music, cable, satellite, storage and distribution technology (discs, tapes etc.), the internet, mobile phones etc.
- Balance between positive and negative defined liberties.
- The negative defined liberties, legislating the role of media institutions in society and securing their freedom of expression, publication, private ownership, commerce, and enterprise, must be balanced by legislation ensuring the positive freedom of citizens of their access to information.
- Balance between state and market.
- Media is at a position between the commerce and democracy.
These require the balance between rights and obligations. To maintain the contractual balance, society expects the media to take their privilege responsibly. Besides, market forces failed to guarantee the wide range of public opinions and free expression. Intend to the expectation and ensurance, regulation over the media formalized.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids the government from abridging freedom of speech or freedom of the press. However, there are certain exceptions to free speech. For example, there are regulations on public broadcasters: the Federal Communications Commission forbids the broadcast of "indecent" material on the public airwaves. The accidental exposure of Janet Jackson's nipple during the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVIII led to the passage of the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 which increased the maximum fine that the FCC could level for indecent broadcasts from $32,500 to $325,000—with a maximum liability of $3 million. This is to shield younger individuals from expressions and ideas that are deemed offensive. The Supreme Court of the United States has yet to touch the internet, but that could change if net neutrality comes into play. The government's role is to protect the interest of the public, balancing this with the business media's needs can be difficult. That is why the courts, The FCC, and the FTC are all responsible for arbitrating the media's rights and responsibilities.
The media systems in Scandinavian countries are twin-duopolistic with powerful public service broadcasting and periodic strong government intervention. Hallin and Mancini introduced the Norwegian media system as Democratic Corporatist. Newspapers started early and developed very well without state regulation until the 1960s. The rising of advertising industry helped the most powerful newspapers grow increasingly, while the little publications were struggling at the bottom of the market. Because of the lack of diversity in the newspaper industry, the Norwegian Government took action, affecting the true freedom of speech. In 1969, Norwegian government started to provide press subsidies to small local newspapers. But this method was not able to solve the problem completely. In 1997, compelled by the concern of the media ownership concentration, Norwegian legislators passed the Media Ownership Act entrusting the Norwegian Media Authority the power to interfere the media cases when the press freedom and media plurality was threatened. The Act was amended in 2005 and 2006 and revised in 2013.
The basic foundation of Norwegian regulation of the media sector is to ensure freedom of speech, structural pluralism, national language and culture and the protection of children from harmful media content. Relative regulatory incentives includes the Media Ownership Law, the Broadcasting Act, and the Editorial Independence Act. NOU 1988:36 stated that a fundamental premise of all Norwegian media regulation is that news media serves as an oppositional force to power. The condition for news media to achieve this role is the peaceful environment of diversity of editorial ownership and free speech. White Paper No.57 claimed that real content diversity can only be attained by a pluralistically owned and independent editorial media whose production is founded on the principles of journalistic professionalism. To ensure this diversity, Norwegian government regulates the framework conditions of the media and primarily focuses the regulation on pluralistic ownership.
At the early period of the modern history of China, the relationship between government and society was extremely unbalanced. Government held power over the Chinese people and controlled the media, making the media highly political.
The economic reform decreased the governing function of media and created a tendency for mass media to stand for the society but not only authority. The previous unbalanced structure between powered government and weak society was loosed by the policy in some level, but not truly changed until the emergence of Internet. At first the regulator did not regard Internet as a category of mass media but a technique of business. Underestimating the power of the internet as a communications tool resulted in a lack of internet regulation. Since then, the internet has changed communication methods, media structure and overthrown the pattern of public voice expression in China.
Regulators have not and would not let the Internet out of control. In recent years, the strategy when approaching the Internet has been to regulate while developing.
The internet regulation in China generally formed by:
- China is the one who owns the greatest amount of legislation in the world. According to statistics, up to October 2008, 14 different departments such as the NPC of China, the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China, and the State Council Information Office, had been published more than 60 laws related to internet regulation.
- Internet regulation departments in China have respective distribution of work. Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is responsible for the development and regulation of the industry, Ministry of Public Security regulates security and fights crimes, and the Propaganda Department leads the system where departments of culture, broadcasting, journalism, education, etc. regulates the information contents.
- Technical control
- The Internet regulation departments restrain the wrongful expression and behaviors by techniques such like blocking information negative to social stable and carrying out real name system through Internet.
- Agenda control
- It requires communicators to set up the relationship between expected information targets and the real targets, guide the direction of information to reach the expectation.
- Structure adjustment
- Traditional media affiliated into government strives to develop Internet with relatively flexible administrating system to increase the communicating power of mainstream media of authority to compete with social communication.
- Regulator delivers the expectation of Internet environment to the population through training and educating to intense people’s conscious about behavior norms.
The European Union
In most EU member states, they have removed media ownership regulations and replaced them with competition laws. Competition laws are laws created by a governing body that protect consumers from predatory business practices by ensuring that fair competition exists in an open-market economy. However, these competition laws cannot escape the problem of convergence and concentration of media.
Anthony Lowstedt and Sulaiman Al-Wahid suggested that the authority need to issue diverse media laws centering at anti-monopoly and anti-oligopoly with democratic legitimacy since media outlets are important for national security and social stability. The global regulation of new media technologies is to ensure the cultural diversity in media content, and provide a free space of public access and various opinions and ideas without censorship. Also, the regulation protects the independence of media ownership from dominance of powerful financial corporations, and preserves the media from commercial and political hegemony.
Many critics of regulatory regimes in liberal market economies have argued that commercial media corporations serve the commercial interests of investors rather than serving the public interest. Robert Waterman McChesney also argues that powerful elites in the media business have the potential to affect policy-making by the government and influence regulatory processes to favor their commercial interests. With the expansion of media markets, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the governments to check trends such as joint ventures, interlocking of directorships, monopolization, and concentration of ownership. Therefore, it is important to introduce a regulatory regime that could ensure diversity, fair competition, equal chance of growth, and protection of the public interest despite the elusive nature of these normative regulatory goals.
In China, the possibility that a film approved by Central Board of Film Censors can be banned due to the disagreement of a specific leading cadre has never been eliminated. The Chinese screenwriter Wang Xingdong stated that regulation over literature and art should be based on laws and not the preference of some individuals. In the field of media, relative legislation must be introduced as soon as possible and applied strictly to avoid the case that some leaders overwhelm the law with their power to control the media content.
- Federal Communications Commission
- Freedom of the press
- Leveson Inquiry
- Media law
- Media manipulation
- News media
- Royal Charter on self-regulation of the press (UK)
- Unlicensed broadcasting
- Net Neutrality
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