Reaganism and Media Deregulation

As President Ronald Reagan took office in 1980, the policies of the U.S. government changed drastically. In his inaugural address on January 20, 1980 Reagan stated that “Government is not the solution to our problem; Government is the problem.”The policies generated during Reagan’s two terms would go on to reflect this deregulatory attitude, and the media industry would go on to alter radically underneath this philosophy.

Official_Portrait_of_President_Reagan_1981The deregulation of the media industry began in 1981. Previously, television licenses lasted a 3 year time period, which was a regulation mandated by the FCC, but in 1981 the licensing time frame is extended to 5 years.  Along with the extension of the licenses, the licensing renewal process became more relaxed.  In order for a television station to renew a license, the process has been changed from a detailed application to a “post-card renewal.”  The “post-card renewal” process was nothing more than an extremely short 5 question application which made it significantly easier for a television station to retain its licenses and continue to gain more.  The ownership of smaller stations by a larger television institution became much more relaxed, as the number of maximum stations an institution can own increased from 7 to 12.  In 1985, the limits on the maximum amount of advertising were lifted making it so that the television institutions can solicit advertisers from any and every possible venue. Under these relaxed policies television no longer felt the pressure to appease audiences, and could focus more on forcing content on an audience in the pursuit of profit.

Arguably the largest and most impactful act of deregulation that occurred under President Reagan was the removal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987.  The Fairness Doctrine was instituted in 1949 by the FCC and it required that those who held broadcast licenses presented both sides of any and all controversial arguments.  When it was instituted, “equal time” became a standard for journalistic quality and was something that every media institution was consciously striving for while Americans nationwide expected it.  The concept of “equal time” became extremely prevalent throughout the Civil Rights era as television became a driving force to communicate both sides of the Civil Rights argument to the nation, and the nation was quick to declare when their side wasn’t presented to equally.  Once 1987 came along and the Fairness Doctrine was removed, this all changed.  Instead of the idea of “equal time” being something for the media to maintain and a means to keep them in check, “equal time” became an added bonus for Americans.  “Equal time” was no rather a gift to the viewer, rather than a requirement of the content producer.   After “equal time” media institutions and their programming could be as shamelessly biased as they chose.

As President Reagan came into office, there was a distinct shift in the ideology surrounding American society and they way that media would portray it.  The overall deregulation of the media, especially the removal of the Fairness Doctrine, changed the ways that the media would portray racial representations, we would viewed our culture through the lens that the media created for us, and ultimately the ways in which we viewed race within our society.  From these policy changes Reaganism was born and it had a profound effect on the American culture.

-Written by Mike Petronek


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