The UNC Center for Media Law and Policy is an interdisciplinary research center run jointly out of the UNC School of Law and UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. The center’s work ranges from the legal and policy issues affecting traditional media organizations to the challenges posed by new communication technologies, including social media, the Internet, and mobile technology, and the impact they are having on governments, on the economy, and on cultural and social values throughout the world.
The mission of the center is twofold: (1) to provide a forum for study and debate about the critical media law and policy issues facing North Carolina and the nation and (2) to have an impact on these issues by supporting the development of legal and policy initiatives that help the traditional and new media meet the information needs of all Americans.
The center capitalizes on the extraordinary strengths of UNC-Chapel Hill’s highly regarded law and journalism schools. Center events and projects bring together a diverse group of legal and communication scholars, media professionals, and practicing attorneys. Faculty and graduate students affiliated with the center conduct media law and policy research, host public events, including UNC’s annual First Amendment Day, and work to educate North Carolina’s business community about the opportunities for supporting and expanding entrepreneurship in the field of information technology.
In 2004, a Raleigh, N.C., attorney and two University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill deans decided the University would be an ideal home for a media law and policy center.
Raleigh attorney Wade Hargrove, then-Dean Richard Cole of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and then-Dean Gene R. Nichol of the UNC School of Law developed a center that would build on the University’s highly regarded journalism and law schools by bringing together the best minds in media law and policy to discuss the most important issues in the field.
Hargrove helped the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy obtain its first funding from the Hearst Foundation to establish an endowment for the center and was instrumental in arranging the Center’s inaugural event, a 2007 lecture by FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin. A graduate of UNC School of Law and UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, Hargrove is a partner with Brooks, Pierce, McLendon & Humphrey, and his practice is concentrated in media, telecommunications, Internet, antitrust, corporate and copyright law. Hargrove serves on the center’s advisory board.
The current deans of the journalism and law schools, Susan King and Martin Brinkley, respectively, continue to work to develop the center. In the spring of 2009, they appointed Professor Cathy Packer of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media to serve as the center’s faculty director. In the fall of 2011, Professor David Ardia at the UNC School of Law joined the center as co-director.
Packer retired in December 2017. Michael Hoefges, associate professor at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, took on the role of interim-director in January 2018 and continued until July 1, 2018, when Tori Ekstrand was named co-director of the Center. Ekstrand served in that position until 2020.
Recent Events and Projects
The center organizes a number of events and projects each year. Some recent highlights include:
|First Amendment Day–The center organizes UNC’s annual campus-wide, day-long event to celebrate the First Amendment and explore its role in the lives of Carolina students. Students and university staff read from banned books, sing controversial music, and discuss the importance of each of the rights protected by the First Amendment, the need to be tolerant when others exercise their rights, and a public university’s special role as a marketplace of ideas. This event is truly one of the highlights of the year for the UNC community.||Workshops, Panels and Policy Initiatives-The center brings together lawyers, social scientists, computer and information scientists, communication scholars, government officials, and legal academics to discuss the most pressing media law and policy issues facing North Carolina, the nation, and the world. These interdisciplinary conversations have addressed such topics as the FCC’s media ownership rules; support for local accountability journalism; online piracy; shield laws; and the effects of technological change on society.|
|Interdisciplinary Faculty Lunches-The center hosts monthly lunches for faculty and graduate students from across the UNC system to discuss media law and policy issues. Past topics have included: the legacy of Justice Antonin Scalia; web accessibility and the Americans With Disabilities Act; provocative art and the boundaries of free expression; technologies of democracy; measuring online engagement; privacy by design; ownership of research data; patterns of information sharing in social networks; big data and computational politics; the right to be forgotten; and social networks, privacy, and politics.||Public Speakers and Colloquia-The center hosts internationally renowned speakers. Past speakers have included: David Barrett, chairman and CEO of Hearst Television Inc.; Ben Sherwood, president of ABC News; Lawrence Lessig, Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School; Sir Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to the U.S. and chair of the U.K.’s Press Complaints Commission; Kevin Martin, former FCC chairman; Ken Paulson, president and CEO of the First Amendment Center; and Noam Chomsky, political commentator and philosopher.|
|Media Law and First Amendment Symposia–The center sponsors several law review symposia each year, partnering with the North Carolina Law Review, First Amendment Law Review, and NC Journal of Law and Technology. Recent topics have included: Net Neutrality and First Amendment issues in Internet regulation; the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in New York Times v. Sullivan; student speech rights; social networks and the law; government surveillance; and campaign finance.||Law School for Digital Journalists–Each year, the center partners with the Online News Association to present a “law school for digital journalists.” This practical legal training covers such topics as copyright law, newsgathering, libel, privacy, access law, and forming and running a news business. The first year’s classes were held at Harvard Law School. In subsequent years, the sessions have been held at ONA’s annual conference in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Chicago.|