Architectural Censorship and the FCC – Article by Christopher S. Yoo

From Volume 78, Number 3 (March 2005)

Most First Amendment analyses of U.S. media policy have focused predominantly on “behavioral” regulation, which either prohibits the transmission of disfavored content (such as indecent programming) or mandates the dissemination of preferred content (such as children’s educational programming and political speech). In so doing, commentators have largely overlooked how program content is also affected by “structural” regulation, which focuses primarily on increasing the economic competitiveness of media industries. In this Article, Professor Christopher Yoo employs economic analysis to demonstrate how structural regulation can constitute a form of “architectural censorship” that has the unintended consequence of reducing the quantity, quality, and diversity of media content. The specific examples analyzed include (1) efforts to foster and preserve free television and radio, (2) rate regulation of cable television, (3) horizontal restrictions on the number of outlets one entity can own in a local market, and (4) regulations limiting vertical integration in television and radio. Unfortunately, current First Amendment doctrine effectively immunizes architectural censorship from meaningful constitutional scrutiny, and it appears unlikely that existing doctrine will change or that Congress or the Federal Communications Commission will step in to fill the void.