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Perspectives on Media and Our Lives

Outline, Readings and Lesson Plan

Nicholas Johnson

Senior College Session 6

University of Iowa

Fall 2007

[20071018-0800; 071020-1450]

Course Description:

Dates: Mondays, October 22, 29, November 5, 12, 2007

Time: 3:30 - 5:20 p.m.

Where: Pappajohn Business Building, Room W151 (Tippie Auditorium)

Registration deadline: October 8

Class limit: 150

Text: Nicholas Johnson, Your Second Priority (2007), available from Prairie Lights Book Store, 15 S. Dubuque Street, Iowa City, Iowa, 319-337-2681, and online from

Presentations including questions and discussion will comment on broadcasting's origins (technology and regulation) and what's happened since; cable television and other technologies; political broadcasting; privacy issues; copyright issues (from the consumers' point of view); and how the Internet ("cyberspace") has required a re-thinking of everything: politics, law, business and economics, even the delivery of higher education.

INSTRUCTOR: Nicholas Johnson is a former commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission and visiting professor at the University of Iowa College of Law. Imbued with First Amendment values during his year as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, Johnson has continued to speak out on media issues during the 35 years since leaving the FCC. By now he's seen media from virtually every angle – as a regulator (FCC, local cable commission), participant (TV host, columnist, NPR commentator, guest, blogger), critic and consumer advocate (NCCB, access magazine, Project Censored, public lecturer), industry representative (Washington lawyer), academic (law school and communication studies professor, think tanks), political use of media (candidate for congress, school board; others' campaigns), and internationally as advisor to foreign governments. He is the author of the course text, Your Second Priority, as well as the earlier How to Talk Back to Your Television Set and Test Pattern for Living.

Recommended Reading Assignments

For a group of adults, taking a course for reasons other than grade point average, no reading "assignment" can come with the implied risk of failing a final exam -- especially since there is no final exam. So these "recommended reading assignments" are simply designed as a jump start to your thinking about the issues before walking into the auditorium, an aid to formulating questions for which you want answers or comments you'd like to make during class and to your better understanding the instructor's comments during class sessions, a source to which you can turn during the days there is no class, and a post-course reminder of what we will have covered during our four weeks together.

What we cover will be in large measure determined by what you want to cover and how we end up balancing (a) the desire to continue an ongoing, robust, productive discussion with (b) the desire to move on and cover more material.

In the absence of strong class preference for something different, here are the reading assignments from Your Second Priority for a number of potential topics. You will note they jump around a bit in the book, as material that is on point has been selected from wherever it might be.

Given that approach, the readings involve "much less than meets the eye." They are identified by book part, chapter, sub-section, pages, title and headings. Thus, there may be three entries that, together, involve no more than half a dozen pages.

Here is an actual selection by way of example:

II/7/b – Galloping Global Multi-Media Merger Mania
  Overview, p. 124
  Mergers, Deregulation and Convergence, pp. 126-127
  Multiple-Media Conglomerates, pp. 127-128
In this example, the "II/7/b" refers to Part II, Chapter 7, selection "b" -- which is titled "Galloping Global Multi-Media Merger Mania." The three assigned portions are found within that selection under the sub-headings "Overview," "Mergers, Deregulation and Convergence" and "Multiple-Media Conglomerates," found at pages 124, 126-127 and 127-128 respectively -- a total of only four pages of reading.

Additional sources:

In addition to Your Second Priority there are some Web sites you might find useful.

On my main Web site,, there are links to a number of Web sites you may find of interest. One in particular, "Nicholas Johnson and Media Reform," provides even more links, in turn, to a variety of resources.

For this fall 2007 semester's Law of Electronic Media class I have created an "Online Resources" Web page. In addition to links to the Web sites of media-related organizations and publications, it also provides links to "Illustrative, Relevant Current News Stories" arranged by some of the topics covered in that course (and ours). If you are interested in looking at the entire Web site for the Law of Electronic Media class you are, of course, welcome to do so.

Here are six clusters of topics and readings in the order we'll be addressing them -- subject to your suggestions for additions, deletions or other revisions, and subject to the time we find it useful to devote to each.

Why Do We Care?

During the heyday of deregulation of broadcasting by the FCC, Chairman Mark Fowler characterized the television set as nothing but "a toaster with pictures." In short, "Who cares what's being broadcast? It's just entertainment."

At the outset of our first session I will be asking you to provide me your answers to three questions: Why do you care about "the media"? What aspects of our lives as Americans are affected by it (if any)? What questions do you bring to this course for which you'd like answers?

Here are some selections from Your Second Priority to get you thinking about your answers:

II/7/b – Galloping Global Multi-Media Merger Mania
  Jefferson and Free Speech, pp. 122-124
  Who Speaks and From Where, p. 125
  Repealing the First Amendment, pp. 125-126
  Corporate Content Censorship, pp. 131-132
  Where Have All the Journalists Gone? pp. 132-134
  Jingoism in the Global Village, p. 134

II/8 – Georgia’s Media Future
  The Pros and Cons of Television, pp. 146-149

II/5 – Forty Years of Wandering in the Wasteland
  The Obligations, and Limits, of Capitalism, pp. 75-77

II/7/a – The Media Barons and the Public Interest
  ITT’s Empire, pp. 106-109

I/4 – Sailing Shark-Infested Waters
  Sea of Manipulation, pp. 65-67

II/5 – Forty Years of Wandering in the Wasteland
  Some Modest Proposals, et seq., pp. 77-80
  Endnotes, pp. 80-86, see especially nn. 6-9, 14-17, 24-26, 28, 31, 33-35

I/3/a – “Mr. Editor, tear down this wall!” pp. 48-50

I/3/b – Local Paper Promotes Student Gambling, pp. 51-54

I/3/d – Sinclair’s Political Advocacy and the Public Interest, pp. 60-64

III/11 – Media as Politics: What’s a Voter to Do?
  The Problem With the Media, pp. 187-189
  The Struggle for Democracy, pp. 189-190
  Efforts to Discourage Voting, p. 190
  Commission on Presidential Debates, pp. 190-191
  Ignorance as a Political Tool, pp. 191-194
  Manipulation Through Advertising, pp. 194-196
  Manipulation Through Political Propaganda, pp. 196-204

What is "The Media"?

When most of us were born "the media" consisted of little more than a local paper and a couple of local radio stations. Over the past 75 years there have been revolutionary changes in "the media" in terms of technology, delivery systems, industry structure, convergence, economics and marketing, content, availability, and regulation. Defining what we mean, what we want to include and exclude from our definition, is not only a worthwhile undertaking in its own right, it's also kind of a necessary preliminary to our having at least a minimal level of agreement as to what it is we're talking about.

I/1/a – An Autonomous Media/Appendix: Alternative Systems of Broadcasting, pp. 13-15
  Endnotes, p. 17, n. 2 (television vs. “media”)

I/2/a – What is “The Press”?, pp. 38-41

III/9/b – Regulating the Cyber-Journalist
  What is “Journalism”?, pp. 169-170
  Restrictions Applicable to All – Including Journalists, pp. 170-171
  Journalists’ Special Privileges, pp. 171-172

II/5 – (The More Things Change . . .) Forty Years of Wandering in the Wasteland,
  Shifting Sands in the Vast Wasteland, pp. 71-74

III/9/b – Regulating the Cyber-Journalist
  Convergence and Cyberspace, pp. 166-168

III/9/a – Media Regulation in the Age of the Internet
  Overview, pp. 152-154
  The Internet: Origins and the New World Disorder, pp. 157-158
  Bits and Bytes and Copyrights, pp. 158-159
  A Government of Engineers and Not of Lawyers, pp. 159-160
  Proposals and Conclusion, pp. 160-163
  Content and Conduit, p. 164
  Personal Privacy, p. 164
  “Media Regulation in the Age of the Internet,” pp. 164-165

III/9/b – Regulating the Cyber-Journalist
  Journalism in Cyberspace: The Similarities, pp. 172-173
  Journalism in Cyberspace: The Differences, pp. 173-175
  Cyberspace Regulation: Some Current U.S. Issues, pp. 175-177
  Conclusion, p. 177

The First Amendment

A portion of the First Amendment looms over many media issues ("Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press"). Given that the Supreme Court has interpreted the word "Congress" so broadly as to include the University of Iowa, and given that there are a great many approved "abridgments" of free speech and press from product labeling to the prohibition on telling jokes around airport metal detectors, it's worth a little time trying to figure out what it means. Might it help to ask, "Why do we have a First Amendment anyway? What are we trying to accomplish? How would life in America be different without it?" Might the answers to those questions be a more effective way to address today's First Amendment conflicts than efforts to parse words like "Congress," "speech" and "no law"?

I/1/a – An Autonomous Media
  What are the values and consequences of the First Amendment?, pp. 4-7
  Free Speech in Practice, pp. 7-9, and n. 28 (p. 22)
  Matters of Grace and Matters of Right, pp. 9-10
  Autonomy and Democracy, pp. 10-11
  The Concept of “Public Access,” pp. 11-12
  Self-censorship, pp. 12-13, and n. 39 (p. 24)
  Appendix: “Autonomy” is not “Independence,” pp. 15-16
  Endnotes, p. 19, n. 12

I/1/b – Jefferson on the Internet
  The Natural Desire to Censor, pp. 26-27
  “What are you Going to Say on the Phone?” p. 27.
  Freedom to Speak Means Freedom to Censor, pp. 27-28
  Freedom’s Last Frontier: Free Speech by Phone, pp. 28-31

Media Regulation: The Rationale and The Practice

Given the First Amendment, by what legal or common sense rationale can one support the notion of a governmental agency "regulating" the "free speech" of broadcasters? What have the rules been and what are they now? Laws and regulations aside, since we happen to be inside a College of Business: Does any corporation have social, ethical obligations beyond following the law and maximizing return for shareholders? If so, broadcasters do, too. Even if most do not, are there additional obligations on broadcasters? If so, why? Copyright is one of the few business specifics embodied in the Constitution; but is it a statement of means, or just ends?

I/2/b – Defining the Land of the Fourth Estate
  The Airwaves, pp. 45-46

III/9/a – Media Regulation in the Age of the Internet
  Regulation, pp. 154-157

II/6/a – With Due Regard for the Opinions of Others, pp. 87-96

II/6/b – A Fairness Doctrine Parable, pp. 96-97

III/10/b – Copyright, Fair Use and Blogging, pp. 181-186

III/10/a – How to Violate Copyright Without Actually Copying Anything, pp. 179-181

Media Ownership: Concentration and Control

Do we, should we, care who owns media outlets? Why? Should antitrust and ownership principles beyond those applicable to all industries be imposed on the owners of broadcast or cable properties? What are the different contexts in which different ownership concerns might arise -- e.g., is it a problem that The Gazette and KCRG are commonly owned, that Clear Channel owns 1200 or so radio stations, that a book publisher would also own a movie studio, that Mediacom offers a cable programming-telephone-Internet bundle, or that a movie studio would also own a theater chain? What are those differences?

II/7/b – Galloping Global Multi-Media Merger Mania
  Overview, p. 124
  Mergers, Deregulation and Convergence, pp. 126-127
  Multiple-Media Conglomerates, pp. 127-128
  Corporate Interlocks, p. 128
  Convergence, pp. 128-129
  Synergy: Hype and Superstars, pp. 129-131

II/7/a – The Media Barons and the Public Interest
  The ITT-ABC Merger Case, pp. 102-106
  Concentration of Control Over the Media, pp. 110-113
  National Power, pp. 113-115
  Conglomerate Corporations, p. 115
  Concentration and Technological Change, p. 116

Media Reform, Options and Alternatives

Thirty some years ago, when I wrote How to Talk Back to Your Television Set, it was an intentionally humorous title; broadcasting of all kinds was a one-to-many, don't talk back, medium. The reason our text is titled Your Second Priority is because I argue that regardless of what your first priority for social change may be, media reform has to be your second priority. A local group called Iowans for Better Local Television chose to file a "petition to deny" the license renewal of Sinclair station KGAN-TV2 in Cedar Rapids when it came up for renewal in late 2005. Is that still a useful tactic? What other options are available to us?

III/11 – Media as Politics: What’s a Voter To Do?
  What a Voter Can Do, p. 204
  What Voters Can Do With the Internet, pp. 205-207
  Media Reform, pp. 207-208

II/8 – Georgia’s Media Future
  World-Class Electronic Media for Georgia’s Future, pp. 138-142
  Democratizing the Media, pp. 142-146
  Radio in lieu of Television, pp. 149-151

I/4/ -- Sailing Shark-Infested Waters
  The Rising Tide; Damming the Flood, pp. 67-70

II/7/a – The Media Barons and the Public Interest
  What is to be done?, pp. 117-122