The Last Picture Show (On the Twilight of Federal Mass Communications Regulation)

97 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2013

See all articles by James Ming Chen

James Ming Chen

Michigan State University - College of Law

Date Written: June 1, 1996


Federal communications law has collapsed like the walls of Jericho. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 heralds the fateful day on which structural regulation of mass media markets must stand or fold. After defining the economic phenomenon of mass communications, this article surveys the history of structural regulation of mass communications in the United States. It traces two distinct and contradictory philosophies expressed in mass communications law. One one hand, federal regulators have equated broadcast content with broadcaster identity. In accord with that belief, mass communications law has striven to protect the public interest in broadcasting through the regulation of market structure and industrial organization. Another jurisprudential tradition encourages mass communications law to rely presumptively on competition to achieve the same regulatory objectives.

Regulators ignore the economics of a technologically driven industry at their peril. This article outlines antitrust-inspired regulatory principles for designing tomorrow's mass media markets. The emergence of gargantuan media conglomerates, each large enough to control vast amounts of programming but none powerful enough to conquer the entire industry, requires a comprehensive rethinking of mass communications and its regulation. As it was when Jericho, let the trumpets blare.

Keywords: Mass communications, communications law, television, radio, broadcasting, localism, antitrust, cross-ownership, Telecommunications Act

JEL Classification: K23, L82

Suggested Citation

Chen, James Ming, The Last Picture Show (On the Twilight of Federal Mass Communications Regulation) (June 1, 1996). Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 80, No. 6, 1996. Available at SSRN:

James Ming Chen (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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