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Inherited Tensions: The Semantic Struggle of the Public Interest
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This paper reports results from observations and interviews
conducted with media activists. The examination focused on inherited
tensions from historical interpretations of the public interest
standard. These tensions demonstrate concerns about: 1) vagueness; 2)
self-interest; and 3) consensus. The researcher argues the public
interest provides limited benefit for guiding policy. In order to
achieve the spirit of the public interest, advocates should shift
discourses to those of media rights and justice.
Inherited tensions: The semantic struggle of the public interest
One of the longest running debates in media and
telecommunications policy centers on the question: What is the public
interest? For approximately 80 years, the phrase "public interest,
convenience and necessity" has served as a guiding standard in
policy, from the Radio Act of 1927 to the Telecommunications Act of
1996—appearing 46 times in the text of the latter, and 103 times in
the amended text of the Communications Act of 1934.1 In these key
pieces of legislation, as well as others, the public interest has
been the source of much semantic wrangling among members of Congress,
the FCC, the courts, intellectuals, and members of the public.
Indeed, the phrase public interest has inherited a seemingly
irreconcilable tension between the individual and the collective,
reflecting in some ways the broader tensions found within a liberal
democracy (Benhabib, 1992; Habermas, 2001; Rowland, 1997c; Streeter,
1990). The individual dimension promotes economic rights and the
market as the natural and rational arbiter of the public interest.
The collective dimension connects not to market ideology, but to a
social responsibility perspective that emphasizes social welfare and
the common good.
Throughout history, media and telecommunications policy has
often privileged market-based solutions to identifying and serving
the public interest (Rowland, 1997b). This trend has resulted in a
definition of the public interest that translates to what the public
is interested in (Fowler & Brenner, 1982). Perhaps for some, the
story ends there. For many, it does not. Policy-makers, researchers,
industry professionals, and members of the public continue to invoke
a public interest tradition that attests to the social responsibility
of the media to serve the common good (Baker, 1998; Barnouw, 1966a;
Blanchard, 1977; Hutchins Commission, 1947). For these individuals, a
purely market-based definition and application of the public interest
might do well to serve individual, economic interests, but it does
poorly in meeting the needs of the collective (Brown & Blevins, 2005;
Copps, 2003). And so, the debate continues, highlighting the
longstanding and unresolved semantic struggle between the individual
and the collective that is embodied within the phrase, the public interest.
This paper argues the public interest, in its present form and
implementation, provides limited benefit for guiding electronic media
policy due to these inherited tensions between the individual and the
collective. In order to achieve the spirit of a public interest that
incorporates notions of social responsibility and collective good,
media policy advocates may need to shift their focus to claims of
media rights and justice. These conclusions are based on a
multi-method qualitative study that employed observations and
interviews conducted with media activists in 2005. The purpose of
this study is to examine the extent to which present day
interpretations of the public interest exhibit the historical
tensions of the public interest, and to identify implications of such
findings for policy decisions that are facing Congress at this moment.
This study contributes to scholarship in media policy, public
interest, and public sphere studies. The findings reported here
represent an integral part of this author's larger research project,
which seeks to understand the meaning and application of the public
interest, as articulated by the primary agents in the policy-making
process, which include mobilized members of the public sphere, the
focus for this report, electronic media professionals, congressional
representatives, and FCC commissioners. The end result of the broader
project is to understand these various interpretations, the links
between them, and the extent to which the public exerts influence on
the decisions reached by policy makers. Yet, the constraints of space
force this paper to focus on only one of these groups, specifically
mobilized members of the public.2
The focus on this group is appropriate for several reasons.
First, a relative dearth of research exists regarding the public's
conception of the public interest. While some research examines
"everyday" citizens (e.g., Brown & Blevins, 2005; Holman, 2005;
McChesney, 1993), the literature as a whole tends to focus on elite
agents in the policy making process, including the courts (Benkler,
2000; Crane, 1983; Horwitz, 1994; Ramberg, 1986), congress and the
FCC (Brinson, 2002; Friedrich & Sternberg, 1943; Harrington, 1997;
Mayton, 1989; Rosenberg, 1949; Rowland, 1997b; R. C. Smith, 1929),
the industry (Agee, 1968; Blanchard, 1977; Fallows, 1996; Fowler &
Brenner, 1982; Powell & Gair, 1988), and technocratic approaches
(Brown, 1994; Held, 1970; McQuail, 1992; Napoli, 2001; Streeter,
1990). Some might argue that the limited research regarding public
participation stems from the fact that citizens are often not
involved in media policy debates. To be fair, that statement may hold
true for some periods. However, in 2003, the issue of media policy
was problematized for many members of the public when the Federal
Communications Commission attempted to further deregulate media
ownership. This action energized the media reform movement, mobilized
around a host of issues such as media ownership, net neutrality,
copyright, and indecency to name just a few.3
McChesney (2004) maintains that media policy is currently
experiencing a critical juncture, the likes of which have not been
seen since the 1930s broadcast reform movement. According to a path
dependent perspective, "Politics involves some elements of chance
(agency, choice), but once a path is taken, then it can become
'locked in,' as all the relevant actors adjust their strategies to
accommodate the prevailing pattern" (Thelen, 1999, p. 385). The point
prior to taking this "path" is the critical juncture. This point in
time is characterized by relatively open choices, the potential for a
wide-ranging discussion of possibilities, and susceptibility to
influence from a confluence of events and circumstances—some
dominant, some subaltern, some completely chance (Thelen, p. 385).
The current juncture is characterized by a resurgence of media reform
activism, emboldened by the FCC's 2003 attempt to further deregulate
media ownership. Furthermore, Congress has begun deliberations to
rewrite the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and several bills have
been proposed and debated regarding a host of public interest issues,
such as the digital television transition and indecency provisions.
The resultant policies could set a new path for media policy, or they
could solidify further the market-based one we are currently on. The
findings of this study can inform decision making at this juncture,
by providing a much-needed citizen perspective.
Dewey (1954/1927) indicated that a public forms to express
concerns about decisions over which they have little control (p. 35).
At this critical juncture, media activists and advocates have joined
in various groups, sometimes oppositional to each other and sometimes
complimentary, to express their concerns about media and its failure
to serve a public's vision of the public interest. Yet, the influence
of citizens on decision making is not always apparent.
Habermas (1998) has developed a model for explaining and
identifying the circulation of influence in formal decision-making.
This model posits that the outer periphery, which includes members of
civil society and discussants of the public sphere, exerts influence
only in situations when an issue has been problematized.4 This study
takes as a base assumption that the issue of media policy has been
problematized, especially so since the 2003 FCC attempt to deregulate
media ownership. By examining how the periphery defines the public
interest, this study provides one important component for
understanding how the public may or may not exert influence on the
decision making center. Due to the limitations of how much can be
accomplished in one paper, the actual extent of this influence must
be left for future reports. The focus here centers on how the public
interest has been problematized by the periphery, and the extent to
which this construction corresponds to historical concerns about the
public interest. In other words, how has the path from the last 80
years contributed to the discourse of the current critical juncture?
Understanding interpretations from mobilized members of the
public provides a useful benchmark that allows us to consider to what
extent decision makers in the government and the industry consider
citizen viewpoints. As such, identifying the public's public interest
provides insight into areas of connection and disconnection among
decision makers and those that are affected by those decisions. The
implications of the findings from this study and the larger project
can serve the pragmatic ends of policy, as well as the theoretical
aims of scholarship.
With this broad overview in place, it is time to look more
specifically at the semantic struggle of public interest, rooted in
historical tensions that take us back in time about 80 years.5
The Struggle for the Public Interest
In the early 1920s, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover
convened four National Radio Conferences with the intention of
reaching a compromise between the government and business regarding
radio regulation. Fausold (1985) explains that Hoover's conferences
were part of his broader administrative philosophy, which maintained
deliberation among government, business and labor could produce
outcomes that would ultimately benefit the public. Yet, Rowland
(1997b) argues that these conferences resulted in little more than a
capitulation to business interests at the expense of the public
interest. At a minimum, these conferences clearly set a tone that the
public interest standard would attempt to balance the individual,
economic rights of the industry with the collective, social welfare
rights of the public. But, what exactly requires balancing?
Individual Dimension and Economic Rights
The individual dimension of the public interest corresponds to
economic rights and market principles of consumer choice,
competition, market efficiency, employment, profitability, and
innovation (van Cuilenberg & McQuail, 2003, p. 185). The invisible
hand of the market determines the public interest through the natural
and rational actions of self-interested agents fulfilling individual
goals (A. Smith, 1937/1776). Subsequently, the public interest is
defined primarily as the aggregate of these individual interests
(Hunt & d'Arge, 1973). From this vantage point, the market serves as
the superior mechanism for delivering private and public goods
(Fowler & Brenner, 1982; Pool, 1983). The public interest is served
when consumers demand what they want to view, hear, or read by
selecting one media outlet over another. Consequently, ratings and
circulation figures become the primary measure of the public interest.
The individual dimension attributes a minimal role to the
government. The goals of policy—either regulation or deregulation—are
to ensure competition and consumer choice, allow for technological
innovation, and protect individual property rights (Fowler & Brenner,
1982; Pool, 1983). Advocates tend to support an absolute
interpretation of the First Amendment in which individual and
corporate rights of speech reign supreme (Mayton, 1989; Owen, 1975;
Thierer, 2005). Exceptions to this latter point may include indecency
and children's programming.
Collective Dimension and Social Welfare Rights
The collective dimension emphasizes social welfare. van
Cuilenberg and McQuail (2003) identify social welfare values as those
which support democratic institutions, including freedom of
expression, access, equality, participation, social order, cohesion,
and the promotion of pro-social objectives (p. 185).6 Proponents of
a collective interpretation maintain that the market is not a perfect
mechanism for serving the public interest, defined in terms of social
welfare. Some authors point out that the market is not the only or
most natural process for ordering a media system (McChesney, 1997).
Such an interpretation might seek the ways in which media can support
an informed citizenry, aid citizen decision making, enhance the
public debate, and provide a diversity of viewpoints (Crane, 1983, p.
121; McChesney, 2004, p. 17).
The collective perspective enlists the government, as
representative of the public, to make certain that the media are
accountable to the functions identified in the previous paragraph
(Hutchins Commission, 1947; McQuail, 1997; Schiller, 1996; Sunstein,
2000). As a consequence, this perspective privileges public
participation in the policy process, and an affirmative view of the
First Amendment, which recognizes both individual rights to speech
and collective rights to know (Harrington, 1997; McChesney, 2004;
Nickel, 2000; Weiser, 2000, p. 30). For example, governmental
policies to promote speech, such as the Fairness Doctrine, fulfill
the public interest (Aufderheide, 1990; Goldoff, 1996). It would be
incorrect to state that a collective perspective ignores individual
rights. Individual rights, such as speech and property, are
important; however, these rights should not be emphasized at the
expense of collective rights, including access to diverse viewpoints.
As this brief overview indicates, the individual dimension of
the public interest is associated with economic rights, while the
collective dimension is more closely associated with social and
political welfare, as it relates to citizens' rights and
responsibilities in a democracy. It may be obvious to the reader at
this point that these dimensions are not always compatible. By some
accounts, this tension has doomed the public interest standard to
failure (e.g., Streeter, 1990). The next section explores this topic
in more depth.
Tension Between the Individual and the Collective
Historical tensions between the individual and the collective
are apparent in three primary areas. The public interest is: 1)
vague, meaningless or useless; 2) used as a guise to mask self
interest; and 3) the result of a false or limited consensus. These
are discussed briefly.
The vagueness of the public interest is a concern from both an
individual and collective perspective (Friedrich & Sternberg, 1943;
Napoli, 2001; Ramberg, 1986; Rowland, 1997a, 1997b). Barnouw (1966b)
identifies concerns of the early Federal Radio Commission regarding
the vagueness of the standard, which led to an interpretation of the
phrase in narrow technical terms (p. 216). Technical standards,
unlike those for content or structure, were viewed as objective, and
therefore, politically safe. Then, as now, the public interest in
programming and structure has been indefinite at best.
Ambiguity has led to competing ideas regarding how to quantify
and qualify the public interest (Hundt, 1996; Napoli, 2001; Schubert,
1957; Sorauf, 1957). From an economic standpoint, the vagueness of
the phrase results in market uncertainties that harm competition. For
social welfare advocates, vagueness may result in contradictory or
meaningless policies that shift with the political tide (Goodin,
1996). It should be noted that economic adherents tend to be more
concerned with vagueness than do social welfare proponents.
Second, social welfare proponents are quite forthcoming in
their criticism that the public interest allows political and
economic self-interest to trump collective needs (Aufderheide, 2002;
Bagdikian, 2000; McChesney, 2004). Rowland (1997b) maintains that the
economic dimension has always been privileged in policy, and goes so
far as to argue that appeals to social welfare are a rhetorical ploy
to cover political and economic self-interest. Some policy makers
share this view. In 1961, Newton Minow (1984) chastised the broadcast
industry for considering ratings as the indicator of what the public
was interested in (for more recent arguments, see McChesney, 1997;
Rowland, 1997b; van Cuilenberg & McQuail, 2003). In 1999, former FCC
Commissioner Gloria Tristani maintained that the public interest is a
"'safety net' to protect the public against those broadcasters who
might be tempted to avoid their obligations in the absence of a rule"
(Tristani, paragraph 6). Most recently, FCC Commissioner Michael
Copps (2003) has argued consistently that the public interest is
increasingly determined by advertising interests, not those of the public.
Third, in attempting to reconcile the problems of imprecision
and self-interest, legislation attempts to achieve some sort of
compromise between the individual and the collective. Yet, in seeking
these compromises, there is concern that the legislation is based on
too narrow of an analysis. Barnouw (1966a) argues this was the case
with the Communication Act of 1934, which attempted to address the
concerns of the industry without allowing equal input from members of
the broadcast reform movement (see also McChesney, 1993). Several
authors point out that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was
developed and passed with limited input from groups and individuals
outside of the industry (Aufderheide, 1999; McChesney, 1997). As a
result, the public interest becomes based upon a false or limited
consensus that tends to emphasize the individual-economic dimension
over the collective-social welfare one.
For example, Streeter (1990) argues that the market's triumph
over the Fairness Doctrine rests with the liberal democratic
framework itself, and the tensions between individual and collective
rights (p. 48). This conclusion suggests that it is not possible to
balance the economic and the social within the public interest
standard. Policy works—sometimes unintentionally—to privilege one
over the other. As a result, policy represents a false consensus
regarding what is in the public interest, primarily because the
concept itself is faulty.
This researcher does not mean to suggest that the economic and
the social are at all times oppositional. In some cases, these
dimensions might be seen as less contradictory than this treatment
might imply (see e.g., Napoli, 2001, esp. the discussion of the
marketplace of ideas, chapter 5). Furthermore, Habermas (2001) has
cautioned against creating a false contradiction between the
individual and the collective, arguing that "private and public
autonomy require each other" (p. 767). Despite these cautions,
conflict continues to exist. To understand the current manifestation
of these historical tensions, this research project asked:
RQ 1: To what extent are the historical tensions between the
individual and the collective dimensions of the public interest
articulated by mobilized members of the public?
The next section provides an overview of the methodology employed to
answer this question.
The purpose of this project is to understand how these tensions have
manifested themselves, if at all, in the current debates over the
media's public interest mandate. As such, the end goal of this study
is not prediction or generalizability. The research is located within
a critical interpretive paradigm, and employs qualitative research
methods to achieve depth.
The appropriateness of the methodology is based, in part, on
Habermas' (1998) framework for explaining the circulation of power
and influence among three agents, alluded to earlier in this paper.
First, Habermas notes that mobilized members of civil society and
discussants in the public sphere comprise what he calls the outer
periphery. Habermas (1998) defines the outer periphery as including
"opinion-forming associations, which specialize in issues and
contributions and are generally designed to generate public
influence, [and] belong to the civil-social infrastructure of a
public sphere dominated by the mass media" (p. 355). He also
identifies an inner periphery that consists of "various institutions
equipped with rights of self-governance or with other kinds of
oversight and lawmaking functions delegated by the state
(universities, public insurance systems, professional agencies and
associations, charitable organizations, foundations, etc.)" (p. 355).
Third, individuals and organizations with power to make regulatory
and policy decisions belong to the center, which includes members of
Congress and the FCC.
According to the model, the outer periphery is typically
unable to exert influence in a normal mode of decision making.
However, Habermas (1998) indicates that when an issue has been
problematized, decision making shifts to a crisis or extraordinary
mode, and the outer periphery has the ability to influence the
center's decisions (p. 357). Furthermore, during moments of
problematization, we can achieve a much richer understanding of the
ways in which the periphery perceive and articulate various social
issues. Given the problematization of media policy, the focus for the
present study is to better understand this discourse and the ways in
which issues related to the public interest are constructed from the
This preference for developing a grounded understanding led to
research to select a qualitative approach, which would allow the
research subjects to express their ideas in their own words. There
was a concern that a quantitative approach, while allowing for
generalization, might not afford opportunities to consider discourse
that does not match already identified categories. However, an
approach that allows for generalization might be an appropriate next step.
With the theoretical foundation and rationale in place, we
turn to a description of the methodological procedures: observations
and in-depth qualitative interviews.
Prior to conducting all but two of the interviews, the
researcher attended the 2005 National Conference for Media Reform,
observing panels and discussions that touched on issues related to
the public interest. Some of these panels included: "The Telecom Act:
Gearing up for the Big One," "The FCC Past and Present" with current
and former members of the FCC, "Media Ownership and Consolidation,"
"Citizen Pressure and Media Policy: Tips from Legislators," and
"Visioning a Media System that Serves Our Democracy and Culture."
These panels included presentations made by activists, FCC
Commissioners and congressional representatives, and question and
In addition to taking notes, panels and Q&A sessions were
audiotaped. The tapes provided back-up to the notes, which were
translated into a summarized narrative following the conclusion of
the event. The observations provided a useful foundation for the
interviews, as well as an opportunity to observe deliberations
regarding the future of U.S. electronic media policy.
Interviews are appropriate to the primary goal of this study,
which is to allow respondents to describe their opinions and views in
their own words. Patton (1987) explains, "The major way in which the
qualitative evaluator seeks to understand the perceptions, feelings,
and knowledge of people […] is through in-depth, intensive
interviewing" (p. 11). Furthermore, these interviews allowed the
research to tap into what Goodin & Niemeyer (2003) call internal
deliberation, or the private reflections of individuals before
engaging in group debate (p. 628).
The researcher acknowledges that much work on public opinion
in both academic and regulatory spheres takes the form of
quantitative surveys. Indeed, these data are important and have aided
in the formulation of this study. Yet, such polling may not allow
respondents to fully articulate their views (Baker, 1998).
A methodological concern for this study was locating a
suitable sample. The researcher endeavored to collect a purposeful
sample, using a maximum variation procedure (Patton, 1987, p. 52-3).
Respondents were selected and recruited based on their participation
in some type of media advocacy organization, from grassroots groups,
to national, highly organized lobbying organizations and think tanks.
These groups are positioned at various points within the periphery
with respect to their influence on the center, providing variation in
terms of experience and level of influence. Other indicators helped
to ensure a breadth of diversity, including: 1) demographics; 2)
geographic location (rural, urban and suburban); and 3) political
views. In addition to allowing for some measure of
"representativeness," this commitment to a relatively diverse sample
recognizes the existence of multiple publics within the U.S. public
sphere, as noted by several scholars, most notably Nancy Fraser (1992).
The sample was recruited from several sources: 1) the 2005
National Conference on Media Reform; 2) internet sources, such as
organizational websites; and 3) snowball sampling. In most cases, the
initial contact was made with a formal letter, mailed on university
letterhead, followed up with a phone call. In other cases, such as a
referral, an email or phone call served as the initial contact point.
Participation was voluntary, but given the personal nature of the
interviews, anonymity was impossible. Participants were informed that
their names and organizations would be withheld from the final
research report to protect identity.
Between April and August 2005, fifty-one organizations were
contacted, out of which 22 respondents representing 20 organizations
were interviewed.7 In the main, the sample reflects the diversity of
periphery groups. Respondents are most diverse in terms of their
ages, which ranged from 25 to 69, with an average age of 43.
Political perspectives, based on self-identification, include
progressive, liberal, moderate, libertarian and conservative. Most
interviewees were progressive or liberal (70%), which is typical of
the reform movement as a whole. The majority of the respondents were
white (82%), male (59%), and from somewhere on the East Coast (77%).
The lack of racial diversity may represent what some respondents
termed the "whiteness" of the media reform movement as a whole.
Additionally, one respondent commented on the gender imbalance of the
reform movement and the policy environment in general: "I know that
you are probably very male-heavy on this stuff. Usually I'm like the
only female name on a list." The geographic disparity may be
accounted for by the Eastern states' proximity to the decision making
center in Washington, D.C.
The literature on qualitative interviewing emphasizes "on
site" or localized knowledge of the subjects under study (Fontana &
Frey, 1998, p. 57-60). For this study, an "on site" location does not
exist. However, several activities provided a suitable alternative to
traditional ethnographic tactics. These include observations at the
2005 National Conference on Media Reform, discussed previously, and
reviews of organizational websites and news articles about media
policy. The primary purpose of being "on site" is to provide context
for what the respondents disclose during interviews (Fontana & Frey,
1998). In that spirit, these three activities achieved that goal, and
constituted a suitable alternative to "being there."
Interviews employed a general question guide, providing
structure and consistency across the interviews, while allowing for
probes. The interviews were audio-taped, with informed consent. Notes
were taken with the help of a lap top computer. Each interview was
transcribed within 24 hours to ensure a high level of clarity in the
transcription. Any problem areas in the audiotape were double-checked
against the interview notes.
The analysis of each interview began with the transcription of
the audio tape, which served to identify emergent themes. The
analysis represented a recursive loop, which started with an
inductive approach, resulting in several preliminary hypotheses. From
there, the analysis became more deductive, by checking the specifics
against the newly formed hypotheses. This loop is akin to what
Huberman and Miles (1998) call iterative research, which they describe as:
a succession of question-and-answer cycles—that entails examining a
given set of cases and then refining or modifying those cases on the
basis of subsequent ones. Traditionally, the resulting inferences are
deemed 'valid,' in the relaxed sense that they are probable,
reasonable, or likely to be true…. When a theme, hypothesis, or
pattern is identified inductively, the researcher then moves into a
verification mode, trying to confirm or qualify the finding. This
then keys off a new inductive cycle. (p. 186)
This iterative process produced three sets of coding sheets, which
permitted consistency of analysis across transcripts, until a
"valid"8 set of conclusions were reached. After reviewing the full
transcripts several times, key excerpts were extracted from the
various interviews and inserted in a table that included the various
themes and components identified by the research. This table was then
subjected to another round of analysis to ensure reliability and validity.
The research question asked: To what extent are the historical
tensions between the individual and the collective dimensions of the
public interest articulated by mobilized members of the public? The
findings indicate the public interest continues to be a matter of
considerable debate. The respondents have inherited the tensions of
the past, and have expanded them in ways that match the current
policy environment. Perhaps one of the most widely shared concerns
was the belief that self interest—economic or political—was covertly
advanced in the name of the public interest. Furthermore, themes
surrounding the vagueness, meaninglessness and uselessness of the
term continue to exist, alongside the recognition that debates may
result in a false or limited consensus regarding the meaning of this
nebulous phrase. A senior fellow with a Washington, D.C.-based think
tank and lobbying organization was quite frank in his assessment,
capturing each of these tensions:
This is exactly the subject: what should be the public interest in
relationship to future legislation that is expected, and the
significant disagreement among different groups, but a desire to come
to some consensus? The industry clearly is going to push for a public
interest standard like they have in the past. It will be pretty much
a meaningless one. But, that way, members of congress will have
political cover for saying they got something in return when they
give something away. And so the question always is: to what extent do
you go along with that? [emphasis added]
The remainder of this section considers the results based on the
primary areas of struggle.
A vague and useless interest.
Respondents from both an economic and a social welfare
perspective shared unease regarding indistinct guidelines for the
public interest. Yet, as with the historical tensions, the exact
nature of the concerns varied. Those with an economic perspective
were typically concerned about the enforceability, constitutionality,
and usefulness of such a vague standard. A senior fellow at a
market-oriented think tank, clearly voices this position:
Public interest regulation was always hopelessly vague as a
regulatory standard, and led to a lot of unintended consequences. And
most importantly of all: it was just not a very good legal standard
because it wasn't a standard at all. It's the fundamental
subjectivity of the public interest standard that I find so
disturbing because there is no standard except for three out of the
five votes of the FCC.
Another respondent from a cable trade organization maintained that
the public interest teeters on the edge of constitutionality: "It's
about as gentle a term as you could have without being declared void
for vagueness in the constitution."
Other respondents were concerned that the indefinite parameters of
the public interest called its usefulness into question. Some
respondents felt the public interest had limited value because it
fails to produce substantial reform or because there are more
efficient mechanisms, namely the market, that can achieve various
public goals. For example, a representative from a cable trade
organization felt that public affairs requirements were easily met in
the letter of the law, but not the spirit: "The idea of running
public affairs shows at six o'clock in the morning on Sunday was and
is a joke. People aren't listening at that hour. And, so, you know,
numerical guidance doesn't work." Thus, requirements for public
affairs programming are virtually useless because they do not result
in the intended outcome.
Another market proponent saw the uselessness of the public interest
as a result of technological change and the number of choices
available to media consumers.
In a world where 85% of the American population voluntarily opens up
their pocketbooks and purses and wallets and purchases cable and
satellite television programming, you really have to ask what kind of
future does public interest regulation have?
He later answers this question by saying,
Every time I testify in front of congress or meet with a staffer or
anything else, if you want to understand the future of media, you
need to sit down and talk to a fifteen year old. And think about and
look at how they're consuming media and think about media and
understand that all this public interest stuff is just an irrelevant
For this respondent, any regulation of the media industries beyond
what is already stated in anti-trust law is unnecessary, and more
importantly, unconstitutional under a strict reading of the First
Amendment. For those who share this view, uselessness and
constitutional illegitimacy demand that the public interest be
rescinded as a formal regulatory criterion.
From a social welfare perspective, many respondents were
concerned that the vagueness of the term ignored the needs of the
citizenry, which in turn implied the relative uselessness or
meaninglessness of the standard. A director for a national media
reform organization explains:
As a guiding standard—to the extent to which it is defined, it serves
as a useful metric by which we might at least begin discussions about
how the media might be better structured to serve the needs of
democracy. To the extent we do not define it, it remains an amorphous
concept that is well nigh useless when it comes to creating a system
that serves democracy.
Here, the lack of a clear definition makes the public interest a
useless standard for achieving social welfare goals of information,
access and deliberation.
In contrast, others thought a bit of imprecision allows a
constantly changing public to negotiate its interests as context
necessitates. The director of a West Coast independent media advocacy
It's always been an underdefined concept. And, I'm not sure that's a
bad thing if left as so. […] It's not good in itself that it's
underdefined. But, it's good that the definition is not static. I
think it will always be the case that there are competing definitions
of what that means because the public is a plural construction.
The respondent recognizes that being "underdefined" can be
problematic, but being flexible and open to ongoing interpretation is
beneficial. With the existence of multiple publics, this respondent
reasons that a flexible standard will allow for the deliberative
(re)negotiation of the concept as needed, a view that is noted by
Fraser (1992) in her analysis of the role of multiple publics in a
socially stratified society.
The problem of false consensus.
These suggestions for either a definitive or fluid definition of the
public interest highlight another concern: false consensus. These
concerns are similar to criticisms of Habermas' original focus on a
single public sphere constituted by a single public, which some
authors rightly recognized as problematic for diversity (Benhabib,
1992; Fraser, 1992). Similarly, a too narrowly defined public
interest can ignore the needs of various publics.
A media literacy activist supports an open-ended definition of the
It [public interest] needs to be vague, because the public is not one
big homogenous thing. They're communities, and you have to look at
individual communities—whether it's a local geographic community, or
a larger demographic community. It can't be one thing. So, some
amount of vagueness is a really healthy thing to have. I don't win
discussing the public interest because I think people need to decide
for themselves what—or people as a whole as communities need to
decide what is in their best interest, but they also have to
communicate that back.
While advocating for some measure of imprecision in the definition,
this respondent also expresses concerns regarding consensus. The
telling comment in this excerpt is: "I don't win." In other words, no
single person or entity can define the meaning of the public interest
because it varies across communities. This theme was repeated in
various ways, from the succinct, "I think public interest means
different things to different people," to the cynical, "Of course,
every group that has fingers in this topic thinks that their
viewpoint is for the greater good."
This polysemic quality led several respondents to indicate
that any attempt to concretely define the standard can result in a
false or limited compromise. The uneasiness of this compromise is
only compounded when the number of groups included in policy
deliberation is limited. The media literacy advocate quoted earlier
expresses this notion when she says, "but they also have to
communicate that back" (emphasis added). Another example comes from a
respondent with a medium-sized cable trade organization:
In the policy work we do, the policies, whether regulatory or
legislative, are often times framed by very large companies, framed
by very large associations, framed by very large interests. And,
often times the way that the policies, legislative or regulatory, are
crafted are based on the interests of these larger companies and associations.
This quote expresses a feeling of being "left out" of the
decision-making process. This respondent feels that his
organization's concerns were denied full consideration because of
powerful lobbying efforts on the part of larger media corporations
and trade organizations. For him, the public interest is built upon a
false consensus that fails to consider the interests of all.
Concerns about representation were voiced by a broadcast
I don't really use the word public interest in my work. I use justice
and things like that, which are much more powerful terms. It's
[public interest] kind of a legalistic one. And, who is the public?
For this respondent, the public interest is an exclusionary term that
frames the debate in overly legalistic terms. For her, it emphasizes
individual rights to the detriment of collective rights and social
justice. This notion of inclusion in or exclusion from the policy
debates also connects to concerns about political and economic self interest.
Public interest as self interest.
The fear that political and economic interests have co-opted
the public interest was a common concern among almost all of the
respondents. Respondents held a widespread belief that dominant
political players affect the interpretation of the public interest in
ways that suit political self interest. A media educator frames the
problem in terms of influence from political administrations:
"Political administrations change, and the present administration
seems less concerned about the public interest than some of the
previous administrations." The concern in this passage centers on the
influence that may come from political ideology, and as that ideology
changes, so does the meaning of the public interest. Another
respondent fingers the FCC as a political puppet:
Depending on whoever is in charge, whatever ideology happens to grip
the party that has the majority on the FCC, that notion of the public
interest sometimes has nothing to do with some of the ideals and even
concessions that I've talked about here with you.
In these excerpts and many more, individuals cite political
interference with the public interest.
As a result of shifting ideology, one activist advocates for
the use of communication rights or the idea of entitlements "because
then it doesn't matter who's the head of the FCC or who's in office.
You are trying to define standards that aren't going to be shifted
with the wind, the political tide." Her perception is that the notion
of rights is a stronger discursive claim than that of interest, which
has led to claims for consumers' desires, rather than citizens' needs.
For some, self-interest is served by the continuing vagueness
of the phrase. A senior fellow with a Washington, D.C. think tank
expressed his distrust:
Public interest is a notoriously vague concept. Many people believe
it's meaningless, which is the whole point from the other side [i.e.,
business]. The broadcasters have never opposed the public interest
because they want lots of things from the government, and politicians
love to use that because when they give things away they can justify
it because the broadcasters are doing something in the public
interest. So, even though they tend to attack the specific, the
industry and members of congress are strong advocates of the public
interest standard, as long as it's meaningless.
From this view, the public interest is a rhetorical construction
that does little to serve the needs of a public, but much to line the
pockets of industry, and pad the opinion polls of politicians. The
reader may note similar observations can be found in the literature,
most notably from Rowland (1997b).
Another respondent describes how corporate interests promote
such a narrow rhetorical frame:
These public interest standards are a lot of stop gaps. They are a
lot of voluntary or pseudo mandatory requirements on broadcasters
that have essentially managed to make sure that they are the ones who
control the infrastructure over which the messages will reach the
public. [...] And they are petty concessions that have absolutely no
teeth to them whatsoever. (emphasis added)
Said differently, the public interest standard, as a simplistic
amalgam of disjointed requirements, does little to structure a
overarching social welfare vision. Rather, this respondent maintains
that such a narrow view amounts to "petty concessions" that are
poorly enforced at best and useless at worst.
The current system has evolved, according to some, because of
the close political relationship between legislative decision makers
and the industry. One respondent explains the development of public
interest as self-interest:
It's [public interest policy] determined more by who gets the
opportunity to lobby, who has unlimited resources to lobby, and that
determines the scope of public interest obligations – be it nothing,
be it make a lot of money – because the argument's often made, the
more money we are making, the better we must be serving the public
because they are choosing to watch us.
This problem of political pressure relates to access to the policy
process, which begins long before the request for public comment is
formally offered (Brown & Blevins, 2005, p. 12).
Many social welfare advocates charge corporate clout on
Capitol Hill with producing a public interest that equals economic
self-interest. Interviewees directly or subtly expressed distrust of
the public interest as a regulatory standard because it seemed to
have little to do with the interests of a public, viewed as a body of
deliberative citizens. Said one respondent:
I'm skeptical about the whole idea [public interest regulation]. With
the media ownership rules, they were trying to come up with this
diversity index. You know, there is this whole fixation with metrics,
which I see as somewhat problematic. I feel that it is this
convenient way that corporations have been able to delegitimize this
area of the public interest by saying you have to be able to quantify
this and that. I think having some kind of guidelines can be helpful,
but I think they need to be more principle centered than metric centered.
This activist feels that such claims for metrics can be
counterintuitive because some public interest goals cannot be neatly
quantified. As such, a focus on quantification serves economic ends,
while ignoring social welfare. In this case, the individual dimension
has been rhetorically constructed as more legitimate than the
In case of market failure, use the public interest.
Even among those who expressed doubts about the value of the
public interest, many respondents expressed that it continues to be
an important mechanism for checking the excesses of a commercial
system. One public interest advocate provides an apt example of this position:
When you move to national ownership, when you move to consolidation,
it [supply/demand mechanism of the public interest] doesn't scale, it
becomes entirely profit driven. […] This unfortunately is one of the
problems that everybody thinks the market is so wonderfully efficient
in deciding what's profitable. All of the radio companies that
underwent this huge consolidation in the '90s and ditched all their
public interest obligations and decided that they were going to
maximize—they're losing money. […] So much for the wonderful
efficiencies of the market. And, now we as a nation have a crappy radio system.
For this respondent, the market is not naturally efficient for
achieving social welfare goals, such as those associated with public
affairs programming. Consequently, regulation, in the name of the
public interest, must be enacted to protect against market inefficiencies.
Market failure, according to some participants, results from the
desire to increase the bottom line, whether that be through
increasing revenues or cutting costs. The following is a
representative quote from a media literacy activist:
Corporations are acting out by seeing how far they can push it to not
do the more expensive things or less profitable things—not
necessarily more expensive, but less profitable—that need to be done
for the communities that they're serving, and the people that they're
serving. They're not going to do that because there's no profit in
that because someone decided somewhere that people don't want to know
what's happening in their community. But, they do. It's such an
incredible disconnect. But, it's always going to be less expensive to
produce one piece of mass communication and distribute throughout all
these different conduits than it is to create community based programming.
This respondent indicates that the market fails to respond to
consumer demand because of the costs involved with producing and
distributing products that meet such demands. She believes that
corporations will do the least amount possible to generate the most
possible demand. Such a viewpoint contradicts an economic philosophy
that says the market meets public demands. In keeping with this
respondents viewpoint, some economists have noted that the market may
drive preferences in a manner that does not accurately reflect demand
Others believe the drive for advertising dollars can produce
Commercial [media] structurally is not designed to serve viewers.
It's designed to, not in the sense of providing a service to viewers,
but in more of the sense of serving them up to advertisers. And, so
the public interest role of media is something which needs to be—it's
not going to be something that appears because of commercial
considerations. It's just not. So, it needs to be supported by a
professional mission of news departments and by public interest
obligations, regulation, and those things. Both those things have
been substantially eroded.
Public interest policy in terms of self-regulation and formal
government regulation can serve as an important corrective for an
excessively commercial system. Without the public interest, there is
a concern that the media system will become much less accountable to
the citizenry, preferring instead to serve the
lowest-common-denominator interests of consumers.
In summary, the results indicate that the historical tensions
between the individual and collective dimensions of the public
interest can be found in the current discourse. More specifically,
the ongoing semantic struggle involves overlapping concerns about
vagueness, self-interest, and false consensus. For some, this calls
the value of the public interest into question, while others maintain
that it is the only standard that can correct for market failure. As
researchers, what are we to make of the ongoing semantic struggle of
the public interest?
The results reveal serious concerns that individual, economic
rights are deeply eroding collective needs of social welfare. The
recurring theme, both in these results and throughout history, of the
public interest as a struggle between social and economic welfare
reveals deeper, much more problematic tensions that stem from the
structure of the United States as a liberal democracy (Rowland,
1997c). This structure places pressure on social institutions, such
as the media, to achieve a potentially unattainable balance of
individual rights with collective ones (Streeter, 1990). Indeed, this
balance was the original promise in any policy area where the
government stakes a claim based on the "public interest" (Held,
1970). Yet, as several authors have acknowledged, this promise is
often met in the most narrow or basic ways (Goodin, 1996), or it may
go unfulfilled (Rowland, 1997a; Streeter, 1990).
In the 1920s, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover was
convinced that negotiations between business and the government would
ensure that the needs of the public would be met, while the
individual economic rights of broadcasters were protected (Fausold,
1985). Such a viewpoint reveals that individual rights tend to be
narrowly defined in terms of economic parameters, including property
rights, copyright, and consumer sovereignty to "choose" (Rowland,
1997a). Thus, the market becomes the primary champion of these
individual rights for both the industry and the consumer. What makes
the market especially attractive for advocates is not only its
protection of individual rights, but its perceived ability to serve
the collective through the mechanism of supply and demand. It is here
where we see the legacy of Adam Smith (1937/1776) and the invisible
hand most strongly.
When we understand the problem of the public interest to be a
potentially irreconcilable tension between individual and collective
rights, we can understand why some individuals view the market as a
particularly attractive option. The market offers a "simple" and
"natural" process that is free of problematic government intrusion
and requires little effort in sifting through the various individual
and public concerns about the role of media in society. As Hahnel
(2002) bitingly suggests, "Markets are a decision to punt in the game
of human economic relations, a no-confidence vote on the social
capacities of the human species" (p. 100). How might the center sift
through the viewpoints of thousands or even millions of individuals?
Indeed, this is a formidable challenge for the center, and explains
in part why the market seems to be the more "natural" solution.
Yet, the ease of the market does not fully address the uneasiness of
those who are concerned about its ability to balance individual and
collective interests. The issues resulting from this balancing act
have led the periphery to question the relevance of the "public
interest" as regulatory language. There is a growing belief that the
public interest is no balancing act at all. Economic interests
dominate the public interest, allowing for only limited concessions
to serve as a thin safety net to ensure that the media does not
completely eschew its social responsibility (for policy arguments in
this vein, see Hundt, 1996; Sunstein, 2000; Tristani, 1999).
Some participants advocate for an expansive view of individual
rights that extends beyond mere economic rights. The calls for media
rights recognize that attention to economic rights ignores collective
welfare. Rights discourses tend to focus on individuals; however, a
vision of media rights, as described by those within the periphery,
considers the location of the individual within a collective. It is
in this spirit that Habermas (2001) asks: "Which comes first: the
individual liberties of the members of the modern market society or
the rights of democratic citizens to political participation?" (p.
767). He encourages us to remember in answering this question that
"private and public autonomy require each other" (p. 767). A rights
framework may allow us to consider this relationship.
Furthermore, a move toward rights discourse may prove
strategically beneficial for influencing the center. Schudson (1998)
maintains that the rights-bearing citizen might have more
applicability for our current civic situation than the rational,
informed citizen, which connects more with the tensions of the public
interest. Schudson explains, "It [a rights-regarding citizenship]
automatically implies respect for the rights of others and the
willingness to engage in public dispute according to public norms and
a public language" (p. 309). While a right belongs to an individual
person, as Schudson makes clear, considering and deliberating rights
forces one to recognize her position within a larger collective.
Through rights deliberation, decision makers and citizens alike might
"internalize the perspectives of others and cast their appeals in
terms others can share, not only to win support but also to conduct a
public conversation" (Goodin, 1996, p. 341).
Calls for media justice take this argument one step further by
demanding direct attention to the collective, acknowledging those
areas where marginalization and commercialization threaten democratic
society. According to one respondent, the frame of justice is more
reflective of the realities that many marginalized groups experience,
than is a frame of public interest or rights. As she explains,
Rights are what people who already have basic economic rights can
say. In other words, people who don't have those rights—who never
did have the right to good education, to not be stuck in jail—these
people never had those rights anyway, so the language of rights does
not work for them. And, similarly, public interest doesn't work. It's
like, we don't even have food or whatever, or education, and you are
going to talk to me about rights? My first amendment rights or
whatever? What does that mean? But, of course, it's very easy to show
a connection between being shown on TV as a criminal and being locked
up in jail and all the money from the state going to building another
jail and not a school. I mean it's not a difficult connection at all
to make. It's just the way you speak about it, the language is so
important in this, as you obviously know. And, it can turn people off
if you use a kind of language of entitlement. It doesn't apply to them at all.
Media justice is linked intimately with social justice, an argument
that finds a home in the writings from many in critical cultural
studies and political economy (see e.g., Bagdikian, 2000; Golding &
Murdock, 1991; Hall, 1999; McChesney, 2003; Murdock, 1995; Schiller,
1996). While these observations may be provocative, what are their
implications for the future of media policy? This question is
The Future of Public Interest in Policy
For many of the respondents, a key remedy to resolving the
tension between individual and collective interests is to expand the
type and amount of public participation in the policy-making process.
Yet, if we are going to seriously examine and possibly promote
increased public participation in the policy process, we must
consider how that participation will happen. Brown & Blevins (2005)
state that a substantial part of the policy process is completed by
the time the first public hearing is held (p. 12). Indeed, the public
is asked to comment on already existing policy, not to contribute to
the range of possible options. Therefore, public participation should
be sought from the beginning of the policy process.
Some may wonder why such participation is justified in the
first place. From a basic level, the public is already rhetorically
invoked by all of the major agents in the policy making process. The
very connotation of the phrase public interest implies that the needs
and desires of a public are considered. Yet, in some cases this
appeal to the public may or may not be based on what the public
actually articulates as its "interest." Indeed, this appeal to "the
public" in words but not in deeds may help to explain some of the
tensions identified in this report.
Furthermore, citizen involvement would require that members of
the public, beyond activists, have a stronger understanding of the
media system. As such, widespread media literacy education is
necessary, not only for children but for adults as well. Such
education would provide a broader understanding of media operations
and provide information to citizens about how they can voice their
concerns to the various segments of the center. It would seem time,
then, to develop ways to incorporate media literacy not only into
elementary and secondary education, but also higher and continuing
education. We must also find ways to reach adults who do not
participate in a formal education system. While the desire to protect
children is noble, policy must also consider the parents, guardians
and role models for these children. Such a project would require the
input and hard work of the brightest minds in research, industry and policy.
Most importantly, the continuing struggle between the
individual and the collective requires us to rethink the use and
value of the public interest in media policy. It might be time to
discard this term as a policy standard. This is a frightening
proposition because, as many respondents have indicated, the absence
of a public interest standard may allow media conglomerates to shirk
even the most basic concessions. Yet, this fear is predicated upon
the media system staying as it is—a largely commercial system with
weak and almost nonexistent public media. The tensions cannot be
resolved if we cling to the present media landscape. This environment
allows a handful of large conglomerates to take advantage of public
resources and receive elite privileges, such as subsidies and access
to decision makers, while the benefits offered to the public are
slowly eroded (Snider, 2005). McChesney (2004) expresses this idea:
Criticizing media owners for their conduct in the hope of improving
journalism is misguided; owners are simply trying to maximize returns
for their investors. The solution to the problem of the media is to
change the nature of the system so that it is no longer rational to
produce what passes for journalism today. (p. 97)
Part of this change requires a shift in discourse that will allow us
to avoid the semantic struggle of the public interest. For over
eighty years, the public interest has constructed a system that
discursively frames the issues in terms of the individual against
collective, economic against social welfare. If we cling to the
public interest in name, it may be difficult to achieve its spirit.
The researcher recommends a re-visioning of the U.S. media
system that allows us to escape the problematic and unnecessary
dichotomy between the individual and the collective. It is with
substantial hesitation that this recommendation is made. However, it
may be time to recognize that citizens' interest is not represented
accurately by the public interest. The first step in re-visioning
the media system requires that we change the language we use to
formulate the media's social responsibility to the public. The public
interest, as a discursive practice, contains embodied within it an
unworkable compromise that privileges a view of the public as
comprised of consumers rather than citizens. Public interest
discourse contributes to a hegemonic market-based ideology that
privileges economic rights, and precludes any discussion that
alternative systems might be feasible and preferable for serving
citizens' rights and achieving social justice.
The argument here is not to eliminate the commercial media system;
such a sweeping change is unlikely and undesirable. It is myopic to
assert that everything produced by a commercial media system is
"bad." One respondent who posts a media criticism blog said:
I always look for the good stuff because people were so emphatically
telling me that it wasn't there. Literally, I've had people say, "Oh
I hear you write about the good stuff on TV, don't write much, do
ya?" There is really good stuff out there, but if you sit there like
a squid and don't look for it, and just stay put and watch what comes
on, well then, yeah. The vegetative state is, you've arrived. But, if
you are willing to look, there's phenomenal stuff.
There is value in a commercial media system, yet a parallel,
alternative system is required to serve the social welfare needs of
democracy. Several respondents, with market and social welfare
perspectives, advocated a refashioning of the existing structure of
the system so that commercial entities using public resources pay for
them. These funds can, in turn, be used to finance a viable and
representative public media system. Policy makers may want to
consider this option more seriously.
A formal and centralized public media system, such as PBS or NPR, is
not the only solution to creating a viable public media sphere. Funds
can be devoted to developing community media, such as cable access
channels, municipal or community wireless networks, and independent
community websites, to name just a few options mentioned by
respondents. This community-based system would provide a space for
"everyday" citizens to become part of the media, developing what
Henry Jenkins (2003) has lauded as a participatory "do-it-yourself"
media culture. Media and telecommunications policy should consider
this vision of the media system as a commons, offering specialized
and shared spaces (Benkler, 2000). Such policies could be enacted
under the broader framework of communication rights and media
justice, as well as through a process that privileges public participation.
This call for a re-visioned media system, predicated on a foundation
of citizen rights and justice, requires additional research to
ascertain the feasibility and practicality of some of these
suggestions. The need for some of this research stems directly from
the limitations of the present study.
First, the present sample could benefit from increased
diversity. Future studies may collect additional perspectives from
those not represented here, and then engage in a comparative
analysis. It would also be illuminating to expand the analysis to the
broader public, including those who are not actively engaged in
issues of media reform and policy. Such a study would involve time
and resources that go beyond the capabilities of a single researcher.
Various university research centers and private and public sector
think tanks might consider this type of study and the benefits it
Second, research needs to engage with decision makers in
government and the industry, which is part of this researcher's
larger project. This avenue of inquiry could examine the likelihood
of legislative and regulatory acceptance of a system that
incorporated an increased level of public participation and a policy
foundation in media rights and justice. Encouraging increased public
participation, rights and justice means little if such input is
likely to be ignored or easily dismissed by legislators and
regulators. As several scholars have noted, public input may be
ignored if the center does not perceive its legitimacy (Holman,
2005). Yet, if Habermas (1998) is correct, the current mobilization
of the periphery should exert some impact on future policy decisions.
Third, research needs to consider the ways in which we might
expand literacy education to adults. Furthermore, research needs to
evaluate the effectiveness of media literacy initiatives. For
example, a longitudinal study could examine the impact of media
literacy education from youth into adulthood. Such studies might
examine how media literacy education encourages individuals to
participate in the process of policy-making as well as the active
development of media products and content. Research in this area
might identify ways that the FCC might better serve an educative function.
A coalition of several hundred grassroots, regional and
national organizations have developed and signed a "Media Bill of
Rights," which asserts the rights of citizens to access an
uninhibited marketplace of ideas ("Bill of Media Rights," 2005).
According to the preamble of this bill, the "nation's policymakers
favor media conglomerates' commercial interests over the public's
Constitutional rights, placing America's democracy, culture, and
economy at risk." Such a movement indicates that advocacy
organizations and the citizens they represent have tired of an
economically-informed interpretation of the public interest. In
re-visioning the mediated public sphere, we must consider claims of
rights and social justice that go well beyond the uneasy compromises
that the last 80 years of public interest doctrine have produced. If
the public's interest cannot be found in the rhetoric of public
interest, let us seek it in the discourses of rights and justice.
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1 Based on a keyword search of the 128-page text of the
Telecommunications Act of 1996, available online at
http://www.fcc.gov/Reports/tcom1996.pdf, and of the amended text of
the Communications Act of 1934, available online at
2 Mobilized members of the public may include activists, from the
grassroots to the national, lobbyists, and others who actively
petition the government in media and telecommunications policy. This
report will refer to these groups alternatively as activists,
advocates and the periphery. This latter term follows Habermas (1998)
and will be described shortly.
3 The researcher does not mean to imply that advocacy groups, such as
the UCC, have not been active throughout history. The implication is
that the movement has been recently energized and expanded
4 According to Habermas (1998), such influence is "characterized by a
consciousness of crisis, a heightened public attention, an
intensified search for solutions, in short, by problematization" (p.
357, emphasis original).
5 The author acknowledges that the individual/collective tensions of
the public interest can be seen in its earliest applications to
transportation (Rowland, 1997a). However, in the interest of space
and relevance, the focus for this review is applications in media policy.
6 The authors' taxonomy of political and social welfare
principles can be viewed as part of what this review is identifying
as the collective dimension.
7 The names of these organizations will not be listed to protect the
confidentiality of respondents. This is a somewhat small community of
organizations, and listing the names of the groups could compromise
8 Valid is used here in the sense described in the quote directly above it.