The Fairness Doctrine
by RDemocrat, Thu May 17, 2007 at 03:48:35 PM EDT
One thing that is increasingly worrying the Republicans is the return of the Fairness Doctrine. Just look at this quote from Mitch McConnell:
"The latest attempt by House Democrats to revive the misnamed `fairness doctrine' will silence active political voices and limit the free flow of information. Government is not the speech police and I will not support these efforts to restrict free speech.
"Political debate is among the most important democratic traditions of our nation and a hallmark of free society. We must continue to preserve the right of all Americans to express their views."
That sounds all well and good, but what would the Fairness Doctrine really do? Why are calls for its return becoming increasingly vocal? Lets look at the facts about the Fairness Doctrine. First a little on the history of this doctrine:
The necessity for the Fairness Doctrine, according to proponents, arises from the fact that there are many fewer broadcast licenses than people who would like to have them. Unlike publishing, where the tools of the trade are in more or less endless supply, broadcasting licenses are limited by the finite number of available frequencies. Thus, as trustees of a scarce public resource, licensees accept certain public interest obligations in exchange for the exclusive use of limited public airwaves. One such obligation was the Fairness Doctrine, which was meant to ensure that a variety of views, beyond those of the licensees and those they favored, were heard on the airwaves. (Since cable's infrastructure is privately owned and cable channels can, in theory, be endlessly multiplied, the FCC does not put public interest requirements on that medium.)
The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows or editorials.
And one opinion of a lawmaker on why a "Fairness Doctrine" was needed:
American thought and American politics will be largely at the mercy of those who operate these stations, for publicity is the most powerful weapon that can be wielded in a republic. And when such a weapon is placed in the hands of one person, or a single selfish group is permitted to either tacitly or otherwise acquire ownership or dominate these broadcasting stations throughout the country, then woe be to those who dare to differ with them. It will be impossible to compete with them in reaching the ears of the American people.
-- Rep. Luther Johnson (D.-Texas), in the debate that preceded the Radio Act of 1927 (KPFA, 1/16/03)
Now that classic quote by an undeniably respectable Congressman from Texas in 1927 sums it up. Look at radio today. Conservative ownership of radio stations has caused a boom in loudmouth Conservatives such as Rush, Hannity, Laura Ingram, Glen Beck, and Michael Medved. The list goes on and on. They constantly attack personally many different politicians and people. Millions of people hear this poison and take it as fact. The attacked partys have absolutely no chance for rebuttal. Just like the good Congressman in 1927 feared:
"And when such a weapon is placed in the hands of one person, or a single selfish group is permitted to either tacitly or otherwise acquire ownership or dominate these broadcasting stations throughout the country, then woe be to those who dare to differ with them. It will be impossible to compete with them in reaching the ears of the American people".
This is what we have happening now. So what about the whining that the Fairness Doctrine violates rights of free speech?:
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."
Now we finally see why McConnell and all those right-wing blowhards are so opposed to the Fairness Doctrine. It actually advances First Amendment rights by making sure that all sides get heard. It wouldn't infringe on the First Amendment rights of anyone, but it would give the victims of their verbal attacks a chance to show their audience just what they are, LIARS!!
For too long these people have been getting away with spewing their poison. I believe they have a right to spew their poison, but Americans also have the right to hear something besides facist propoganda on their radio. It is time America returns once again to the Fairness Doctrine on the radio. Please join me in demanding our legislators pass it!!