called public interest groups, citizen groups, consumer activist
groups, and media reform groups--have existed since the 1930s as
consumer checks on a broadcast industry where decisions quite often
have been based not on public interest standards but rather on economic
incentives and regulatory mandates. Advocacy groups have carved
a niche for themselves in the broadcast industry's policy-making
apparatus by first defining key public interest issues and then
by advocating ways by which broadcasters may address these issues.
characteristics have varied widely. Some have operated nationally
with or without local chapters, and some have operated only locally.
Some have remained active for many years, whereas the life span
of others has been brief. Some advocacy groups have been well-financed,
often receiving substantial foundation funding, while others have
operated with little financial support. Practically all advocacy
groups have relied on newsletter subscriptions, video purchases,
and lectures as means of raising money. Finally, some advocacy groups
have devoted exclusive attention to the broadcast industry, whereas
other groups with a more varied menu of concerns have developed
subsidiary units to deal with broadcast-related issues.
The total number
of advocacy groups, past or present, is difficult to determine,
given their ephemeral nature. However, a 1980 publication listed
some 60 national and 140 local advocacy groups. Some of the more
prominent groups have included the National Association for Better
Broadcasting, the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting,
Action for Children's Television, Accuracy in Media, the National
Black Media Coalition, and the Coalition for Better Television.
Besides these, the Office of Communication of the United Church
of Christ has been a particularly effective advocacy group as have
the Media Task Force of the National Organization for Women and
the National Parent Teachers Association. Assisting these groups
in legal, regulatory, and legislative matters have been pro bono
public interest law firms such as the Citizens Communication Center.
groups such as the Radio Council on Children's Programming and the
Women's National Radio Committee, both formed in the 1930s, were
concerned with program content. Group members monitored radio programs,
reported their opinions on acceptable and unacceptable content in
newsletters, and gave awards to radio stations and networks airing
exceptional programs. That practice and mode of consumer/broadcaster
interaction continued until the 1960s when the broadcast industry
became caught-up in a sweeping consumers' movement. During the latter
part of the 1960s, advocacy groups, led most effectively by the
United Church of Christ, began challenging television station license
renewals through a legal instrument called a "petition to deny."
Such petitions were aimed at denying license renewal for television
stations whose programming or employment practices were considered
discriminatory. Advocacy groups also were successful in forcing
broadcasters to accede to programming and minority employment demands
contained in "citizen agreements." When such unprecedented public
access into the regulatory and station decision-making process won
approval of both the federal courts and the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC), advocacy groups blossomed.
The most common
targets of advocacy groups during the 1970s continued to be minority
programming and employment practices. However, violent program content,
children's programming, and general public access to the airwaves
also took on significance. Advocacy group tactics during this period
included the petitions to deny and citizens agreements noted above
as well as participation in FCC rule making and congressional hearings,
actual or threatened program sponsor boycotts, and publicity. Advocacy
group achievements during the 1970s usually came in small doses,
but major successes included the improvement in broadcast station
employment opportunities for women and minorities, greater public
participation in the broadcast regulatory process, improvement in
children's programming, and the banishment of cigarette advertising
from the airwaves.
The nature of
advocacy groups began to change during the 1980s. A more conservative
political agenda derailed the consumers' movement that had bolstered
the more liberal-minded advocacy groups of the 1970s. Moreover,
public interest law firms and foundations that had funded many of
the more prominent advocacy groups during the 1970s began either
disappearing or turning their attention elsewhere. Changes in the
broadcast industry itself--deregulation, the rise of cable television,
and changing station/network ownership patterns--also reversed many
of the early advocacy group achievements and left the leadership
as well as membership of many of the groups in disarray.
groups did not disappear; rather their issue emphasis took a decidedly
conservative turn. Groups such as Accuracy in Media and the Coalition
for Better Television gained momentum in the 1980s with a large
constituency, substantial funding, and a focus on ridding the airwaves
of programs that either were biased in news reporting or contained
an excess of sex and violence. Extensive mailing lists also helped
these groups to quickly galvanize public support for their causes.
groups promoting a liberal agenda and with sights set on molding
public opinion on a more tightly focused set of special interests
than in the past also began appearing in the 1990s. These interests
included gun control, AIDS awareness and prevention, abortion rights,
world hunger, and the environment. Led by Amnesty International,
The Environmental Media Association, and Center for Population Options,
these advocacy groups succeeded to some extent by convincing a number
of television network producers to insert messages in prime-time
entertainment programs that addressed the advocacy groups' concerns.
role of advocacy groups through the years has engendered a mixture
of praise and criticism. While the objectives, methods and zealotry
of some groups have met with scorn, the efforts of others have been
viewed as beneficial for, at the very least, making the broadcast
industry sensitive to public needs and concerns.
John R. Law and Regulation of Electronic Media. Englewood
Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1982; 2nd Edition, 1994.
Anne W., and Maria Savage, Broadcast Reform at the Crossroads.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Kalba Bowen Associates, 1987.
Les. "Is the Public Interested in the Public Interest?" Television
Quarterly (New York), Fall, 1979.
Barry, and Mal Oettinger. Reluctant Regulators. Reading,
Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Company, 1978.
Mel. "Will TV Networks Yield to New Pressure Groups?" Television/Radio
Age (New York), 4 May 1981.
Ronald. "Access: Evolution of the Citizen Agreement." Journal
of Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), Winter 1978.
Donald L. Citizens' Groups and Broadcasting. New York: Praeger,
Ann. "Pressure Group Crusade Seen as Top Problem by Networks, Producers."
Houston Chronicle, 19 May 1981.
Erwin, Laurence D. Longley, and Herbert A. Terry. The Politics
of Broadcast Regulation. New York: St. Martin's 1978, 3rd Edition,
Craig. "Probing a Pressure Group." Electronic Media (Chicago),
26 April 1984.
Richard. "How the Crusades Became Prime for TV." Los Angeles
Times, 14 April 1991.
Kathryn C. Target: Prime Time: Advocacy Groups and the Struggle
over Entertainment Television. New York and Oxford: Oxford University
Citizens Committee for Broadcasting. Citizens Media Directory,
1980 Update. Washington, D.C.: National Citizens Committee for
Chip. "Watchdog Watch." American Journalism Review (College
Park, Maryland), April 1993.
Andrew O. Media Access. Boston: Little, Brown, 1976.
F. Leslie, Milan D. Meeske, and John W. Wright, III. Electronic
Media and Government. White Plains, New York: Longman, 1995.
also ACT (Action for Children's