Mass Communication Law and Policy Research and the Values of Free Expression Mass Communication Law and Policy Research and the Values of Free Expression

Edward Carter
Twenty-five years ago, on the 200 th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, Journalism Quarterly published a special issue on the First Amendment that contributed to a modern theory of mass communication freedom of expression. Under the title "The First Amendment-the Third Century," the special issue contained eight articles that, collectively, articulated values of mass communication law and policy distinctly identifiable within the general theory of freedom of expression. For example, drawing on
more » ... xample, drawing on the work of Chafee, Emerson, Blasi and Baker, the special-issue author Elizabeth Blanks Hindman (1992) outlined a public-service role of the press. Ideally, the press would spread truth by expanding opportunities for diverse discussion. It would acquire information about government and publicly critique official action. The press should maintain independence without violating ethical standards. It should provide a non-government source for information and entertainment while checking government abuse of power. Hindman employed a doctrinal approach (Bobbitt, 1982) to analyze the academic commentary and construct her argument. The 1992 special issue serves as a benchmark for mass communication law and policy research in Quarterly and generally, including research focused on free speech values and theory. This essay's purpose is to argue that, among several important objectives, mass communication law and policy scholars seek to understand and create meaning about the societal and individual values of mass communication freedom of expression. Scholars may vigorously critique the values and even advocate reformation or rejection. Previously neglected values may be given new attention. Developing mass communication law theory is never finished because of changes in society, including technological advances, emerging global influences, and evolution in government action and the nature of civic participation. While freedom of 2 expression theory is the subject of broad scholarly discussion in political science and law school journals, among others, mass communication law scholars have the particular opportunity and perhaps even responsibility to analyze values of mass communication free expression with the possibility of the analysis growing into mass communication law theory and even shaping law itself. Like Hindman, several other authors in the 1992 Journalism Quarterly special issue used the doctrinal approach to assess the state of the First Amendment. Simon (1992) criticized the traditional logical argument method of communication law scholarship, contending researchers could make a more significant contribution by doing something lawyers and judges were not already doing, namely providing factual data and analysis. Teeter Jr. (1992) despaired that some long-standing battles for freedom of the press had not yet been won, but he saw hope in the individual self-fulfillment value as well as the marketplace of ideas. Hale (1992) combined a doctrinal analysis with a systematic approach to quantify the legal wins and losses of mass media. Other special-issue authors utilized different types of constitutional argument. Blanchard (1992) and Cobb-Reiley (1992) took historical approaches to examining freedom of speech and press, and Cobb-Reiley in particular related her historical research to First Amendment theory. Parramore (1992) adopted a textual, historical and structural hybrid approach to show that some states protected mass media freedoms more vigorously than the federal system. The contribution of one special-issue author stood out: Walden (1992) criticized the focus on freedom of expression theory because, she argued, it distracted from the effort to keep government action from abridging speech and press rights. She advocated instead a focus on the government's purpose or intent in taking action affecting free expression. 3 For about a decade following the special issue, mass communication law scholars writing in Journalism Quarterly and its successor title, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, continued to develop theory within structural, historical, textual and sometimes doctrinal approaches to constitutional analysis. But then, for nearly 15 years, mass communication law research in the pages of Quarterly slowed. Only in 2016 did authors in the journal return to mass communication law research and theory in greater numbers and depth. This essay examines that chronology and then makes observations about future directions for analysis of free-expression values and First Amendment theory in mass communication law and policy research.