What Is The Fairness Doctrine?
This doctrine is the brainchild of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and seeks to protect the general public from being subjected to one-sided propaganda on controversial issues. While the idea of being “fair and balanced” may sound like a commercial for the Fox News channel, it also flies in the face of the First Amendment, since in essence it sets up governmental control over the topics and opinions expressed on the public airwaves.
How Is The Fairness Doctrine Applied?
Since 1987 there has not been much enforcement of this doctrine. As a matter of fact, in 1969 the Supreme Court did rule that the doctrine was indeed constitutional in the landmark legislation Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. Federal Communications Commission, 395 U.S. 367 (1969), providing that if a person is having their good name smeared on air they shall be given equal time to respond to the attack.
Yet in 1985 the FCC itself realized that their doctrine was opposed to the freedom of speech, and thus began to not only reverse itself, but also ceased application of this doctrine as it was no longer deemed to be necessary in the face of so many media and news outlets.
It is interesting to note that Congress time and again sought to institute the rule while the conservative presidencies of Reagan and Bush, Sr. refused to go along with the doctrine.
Is The Fairness Doctrine Dead?
Not if Kucinich, Hinchey, Sanders, and Slaughter have their way. Once again there is a movement underfoot to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Thus, the conservatives are right when they claim the “libs” are seeking to restore the doctrine, but it does not reek of the attempt to shut down talk radio, as some ultra conservative talking points state. Instead, the theory behind the doctrine states simply that for every right-winger, there needs to also be a left-winger on board. While in the mainstream media there is a far-left bias, in talk radio there is more of a right-wing bias. Does this mean for every witchy-pooh television show that glories in leftist social commentary there will now be an episode of Highway to Heaven with conservative commentary? No. Apparently, this rule is to be applied to talk radio only.
Is The Application Of The Fairness Doctrine A Good Idea?
No. Since it is so unilaterally applied, it does indeed look like an attempt to stifle the outlet for more conservative commentators. Additionally, it is dubious at best to put the FCC in charge of allocating “fairness.” Add to this the fact that the medium has grown to such an extent that not even the most dedicated FCC employees will be able to police each and every radio station, it soon becomes clear that there is precious little fairness about this doctrine, and a lot more of a horse and pony show the radio stations will put on to keep the FCC off their backs.
Will the fairness doctrine permit for a more controversial airing of ideas? Hardly, instead you may find more and more stations playing elevator music. If you are looking for fairness, listen to a collection of shows, read the papers, watch the news programs, and be informed. You don’t need the FCC to hold your hand for that (and in the process slice and dice the First Amendment), do you?