Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Fairness Doctrine.

Within the months leading up to the presidential election, it was virtually impossible to tune into Far Right talk radio without hearing one or another of the interchangeable voices bemoan the possibility of the re-institution of the Fairness Doctrine. These hyperventilating hacks have every reason to fear the possibility that such rules will be brought back. The extremely narrow perspective that emanates from the public airwaves threatens to poison the political dialog in our nation permanently. How did the AM/FM bands reach such a state? It was the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine (as well as the deregulation of the radio broadcast industry) during the Reagan years that created the current climate.

The original policy (created in 1949) was an attempt by the Federal Communications Commission to require all parties with a broadcast license to present controversial social and political issues in an honest, equitable, and balanced manner. The Supreme Court has consistently upheld the FCC's power to regulate access to any media wherein channels are "limited". However, our federal Judicial Branch has not required the FCC to do so. In 1974, that ruling board seemed content to pronounce that licensees were voluntarily following the spirit of the rules, and thus had no need to intervene. But it left the door open to act on the policy in the future.

It was FCC Chairman and Reagan-Appointee Mark Fowler that announced in 1985 his intention to repeal parts of the Doctrine, saying that it violated the Free Speech guarantees of the 1st Amendment. In 1987 the Fairness Doctrine was abolished. Congress had attempted to block such a move with its own legislation, but The Gipper vetoed the bill. However two provisions of the Doctrine remained in place until 2000*- the "personal attack rule" and the "political editorial rule". The first mandated that an individual or small group under attack on a licensed radio station be notified in writing by the broadcaster, sent a transcript of the attack, and have the opportunity to reply for free on that same station. The second rule said that whenever a broadcaster made a political endorsement, the opposing candidate was to be notified and offered a chance to respond.

President-Elect Barack Obama is on record as saying he does not support the return of the Fairness Doctrine, but he does favor media-ownership caps and network neutrality. Yet there have been several key Democratic figures who have called for the re-imposition of The Fairness Doctrine. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D- NM) told a conservative radio host that "for many, many years we operated under a Fairness Doctrine in this country, and I think the country was well-served. I think the public discussion was at a higher level and more intelligent in those days than it has become since." In addition House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen Richard Durban (D-IL) and Sen. John Kerry have all embraced the idea of bringing the Doctrine back.

For the last two decades, Rush Limbaugh, and his many clones that dominate our airwaves, have grown increasingly bolder in their vilification of opponents. A constant stream of extremist Right Wing propaganda is offered (free-of-charge) 24-7 throughout the frequency range of radio.
In many areas (such as Western Pennsylvania) there is no alternative voice available. Huge conglomerates like Clear Channel and Sinclair Broadcasting have used the powers of monopoly to keep competitors outside of the market. The costs of setting up an operation to rival the corporate media giants are prohibitive. Nutty "conservative" programming runs rough-shod over a vulnerable segment of the populace that is more than willing to accept the lies on offer. Something needs to change, and the "Commons" of the air restored to The People.

* As Wikipedia states, "The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the FCC to justify these corollary rules in light of the decision to repeal the Fairness Doctrine. The FCC did not provide prompt justification and ultimately ordered their repeal in 2000."

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Blogger Warm Apple Pie said...

Mixed emotions here, merge. I understand the need for competing voices in general media outlets. However, I also believe this is one area of society where the free market of ideas is the best model. Liberal talk radio has never been viable, proven by the feckless efforts of Air America, perpetually flirting with bankruptcy. Also, blowhards like Limbaugh and EVERYONE at Townhall are more in the realm of entertainment than newsworthy political discourse.

The reason you do not have competing voices in Western Pennsylvania? There is no demand for them, and thus no supply. Liberals and independents (and this may come off as arrogant) do not need the pom poms shaken by a pissed-off head cheerleader with a microphone. Radio is obsolete beyond the car ride to work. We seek our news from the internet or television at night.

Rush Limbaugh exists because millions listen to him. Randi Rhodes hardly exists because hardly anyone listens to her.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Notoriously Conservative said...

Come now, do you really need the airwaves? You already have NPR, not to mention CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, the majority of print media, and 90% of Hollywood. Why won't the fairness doctrine be extended to those mediums as well? Because the liberals don't want to suppress their own side, that's why. The fairness doctrine is nothing more than an attempt to silence differing views, and it is a scary, big brother sort of move that looks to limit opposition, and impose one world view. That's not America.

Oh, it should also be noted that the reason the airwaves are dominated by the right, is because leftist shows don't make it, they have no listeners. Why listen to crappy AM radio, when they can watch the liberal media in HD? Or pick up a copy of newsweek?

http://www.notoriouslyconservative.com Come visit libs!

2:40 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I disagree. There is certainly a demand for some amount of liberal radio. The money's never been there behind it in this area to determine the amount of that demand.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Liberal talk radio struggles to maintain an audience even in the nations most liberal cities. If it can't make it in NYC, what makes you think it would make it in Western Pennsylvania. Like WAP said, this is simply a case of supply and demand. Force liberal radio down America's throats and all you're gonna do is kill the talk radio industry and the thousands of people it employs.

5:14 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

notoriously conservative,

I don't consider any of the sources you've named (except maybe MSNBC) as nearly as extreme on the progressive side as Talk radio and FOX are on the Right. There's just no comparison at all.

The Fairness Doctrine was only applied to radio because it has limited bandwidth. I made that clear in my post, so I don't understand why you are asking the question.

The Doctrine would not "impose one world view"-- in fact its intention is exactly the opposite.

8:22 PM  

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