Restoring Historical Understandings of the ‘Public Interest’ Standard Of American Broadcasting: An Exploration of the Fairness Doctrine

Christina Lefevre-Gonzalez


The “public interest” standard is a phrase that American broadcast regulation has not clearly defined throughout its history. Media scholars have attempted to locate the “true” meaning of the public interest standard by historicizing its use through broad analyses of broadcast regulation, but this approach has provided inadequate frameworks for understanding how the public interest standard has informed broadcast policy. By centering its historical analysis on the Fairness Doctrine, this article uncovers four dominant definitions for the public interest standard: first, as an enforcer of structure and efficiency of the spectrum; second, as part of the trusteeship of licensed broadcasters; third, for social justice and reform; and fourth, for the tastes and preferences of the public.

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