Explaining media policy: American political broadcasting policy in comparative context

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Jay B. Wright


Comparative media, Equal access, Path dependence, Media policy, Political broadcasting

Subject Categories

Communication | Mass Communication | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This study offers a theoretical explanation for political broadcasting policy in the United States in the twentieth century. The study identifies four dimensions to a political broadcasting policy: political access (to whom access was granted), allotting access (how access was allotted), freedom of speech (how freedom of speech was addressed), and political airtime (what form access took).

By comparing the influences of material, institutional, and cultural factors in Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, the study concludes that cultural factors--particularly an interaction of national and regional values, an emerging nonpartisan ethic, and attitudes about professionalism and voluntarism--provide the best explanation for political broadcasting during this critical juncture in media policy history.

The study also concludes that once initial policy decisions were made, the historical mechanisms of path dependence, positive feedback, sequencing, long-term processes, and path inefficiency emerge as the best explanation for the changes and consistencies in political broadcasting policy from the 1940s through the 1990s. Hence the study challenges the realist and pluralist stories typically told about U.S. media policy.


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