The Fairness Doctrine
Patrick Ruffini berates his fellow Republicans for obsessing on the "threat" of the return of the Fairness Doctrine. It does seem a strange crusade, given that Democrats certainly are not clamoring for the return of the Fairness Doctrine and Republicans (rightly in my view) believe the Media was pro-Obama. In any event, I thought I would look to see who was a proponent of the Fairness doctrine and why. (My recollection of the Fairness Doctrine was some ranting citizen on for 5 minutes at 1 in the morning, but maybe it did more than that.) I found this article at the FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a sort of liberal answer to the late Reed Irvine's old conservative Media "watchdog" organization, AIM (Accuracy In Media) site. This is the argument they presented in 2005:
There are many misconceptions about the Fairness Doctrine. For instance, it did not require that each program be internally balanced, nor did it mandate equal time for opposing points of view. And it didn’t require that the balance of a station’s program lineup be anything like 50/50.
Nor, as Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly claimed, was the Fairness Doctrine all that stood between conservative talkshow hosts and the dominance they would attain after the doctrine’s repeal. In fact, not one Fairness Doctrine decision issued by the FCC had ever concerned itself with talkshows. Indeed, the talkshow format was born and flourished while the doctrine was in operation. Before the doctrine was repealed, right-wing hosts frequently dominated talkshow schedules, even in liberal cities, but none was ever muzzled (The Way Things Aren’t, Rendall et al., 1995). The Fairness Doctrine simply prohibited stations from broadcasting from a single perspective, day after day, without presenting opposing views.
In answer to charges, put forward in the Red Lion case, that the doctrine violated broadcasters’ First Amendment free speech rights because the government was exerting editorial control, Supreme Court Justice Byron White wrote: “There is no sanctuary in the First Amendment for unlimited private censorship operating in a medium not open to all.” In a Washington Post column (1/31/94), the Media Access Project (MAP), a telecommunications law firm that supports the Fairness Doctrine, addressed the First Amendment issue: “The Supreme Court unanimously found [the Fairness Doctrine] advances First Amendment values. It safeguards the public’s right to be informed on issues affecting our democracy, while also balancing broadcasters’ rights to the broadest possible editorial discretion.”
Ok, that explains what it does not do and why it is not inconsistent with the First Amendment, but why do we need it? FAIR's argument:
For citizens who value media democracy and the public interest, broadcast regulation of our publicly owned airwaves has reached a low-water mark. In his new book, Crimes Against Nature, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. probes the failure of broadcasters to cover the environment, writing, “The FCC’s pro-industry, anti-regulatory philosophy has effectively ended the right of access to broadcast television by any but the moneyed interests.”
According to TV Week(11/30/04), a coalition of broadcast giants is currently pondering a legal assault on the Supreme Court’s Red Lion decision. “Media General and a coalition of major TV network owners—NBC Universal, News Corp. and Viacom—made clear that they are seriously considering an attack on Red Lion as part of an industry challenge to an appellate court decision scrapping FCC media ownership deregulation earlier this year.”
Considering the many looming problems facing media democracy advocates, Extra! asked MAP’s Schwartzman why activists should still be concerned about the Fairness Doctrine. What has not changed since 1987 is that over-the-air broadcasting remains the most powerful force affecting public opinion, especially on local issues; as public trustees, broadcasters ought to be insuring that they inform the public, not inflame them. That’s why we need a Fairness Doctrine. It’s not a universal solution. It’s not a substitute for reform or for diversity of ownership. It’s simply a mechanism to address the most extreme kinds of broadcast abuse.
(Emphasis supplied.) Count me as among the unconvinced. But your mileage may vary. One thing for sure, very few, and no one with influence, seems to be clamoring for the return of the Fairness Doctrine.
Speaking for me only
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