Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Government and International Affairs

Major Professor

Steven Tauber, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Michael Gibbons, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joan Pynes, Ph.D.


FCC, Isaiah Berlin, liberty, localism, diversity, ownership regulations


A key theoretical debate underlying the now defunct Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation known as the Fairness Doctrine is conflict over what constitutes the right to freedom of speech: a positive or negative conception. Similarly, since repeal of the Doctrine, other FCC measures to uphold the “public-interest” standard in broadcasting have relied on a positive conception of speech. This thesis demonstrates the history of this debate through court cases, news reports, scholarly articles and historical documents. It then is argued that the positive-right nature of these regulations is problematic philosophically, constitutionally and practically. The positive-right conception lends itself to an uncomfortable level of paternalism on the part of government regulators, a constitutional abridgement of negative-right speech and a tedious involvement of government in regulation that can lead to a chilling effect on speech. The conclusion then suggests further areas of research related to the topics covered in the thesis.