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The fairness of the Fairness Doctrine

Posted on July 4, 2007
In category Politics

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Hmmm….. Well, that pretty much sums it up for me. You know, that little part that says, ‘Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …’ Oh, that’s just a little quote from the very first amendment of the US Constitution in case anyone was curious. You know, just the single most important document in our country’s history. Nothing to get all riled up about or anything…

Of course, Dennis Kucinich, et al of the crazed left wing conspiracy (it’s not vast, just crazy) thinks that the federal government should have a law regarding this doctrine of fairness. Why, you ask? It appears that it has something to do with the fact that most talk radio is conservative. I guess it’s very nice that our country has nothing else to worry about except that Rush is popular on the airwaves. I guess the Democratic Congress has that whole terrorism thing licked. And immigration isn’t at all important. Social Security– pooey! We now know that it isn’t in trouble! Not for at least another eight or so years, anyway. Why, there will certainly be someone else to blame by that time.

And, of course the economy is doing quite nicely, thank you, in spite of what most members of the crazed left wing conspiracy would have you believe.

So, what’s the problem, you ask?

First of all, let’s make this clear: the Fairness Doctrine is not– repeat– is not the Equal-time rule. Now that that’s resolved, I’ll point you in the direction of a couple articles to give you a history of this whole thing. First, I suggest reading ‘The Fairness Doctrine – How we lost it, and why we need it back’ by Steve Rendall, available here. Next, read an opposing viewpoint by Adam Thierer named ‘Why the Fairness Doctrine is Anything But Fair’. That can be read here.

I will admit that intelligent, honest people can disagree about this (and most other things, too). I’m sure not everyone wanting this reinstated is crying themselves to sleep at night because Sean Hannity is popular on radio. But if we actually put this into context it becomes very clear (to me) that the Fairness Doctrine is not that which it purports to be: fair.

Why? In the case that most of these crazed left wing conspirators like to point to, Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 395 U.S. 367 (1969) the only reason that the doctrine was upheld was that the limited frequencies are regulated and licenses distributed by the federal government. Similar cases involving newspapers had been considered unconstitutional. So, we can gather that:

Fundamentally, it is against the concept of free speech to institute a fairness doctrine. But, considering the fact that there is limited frequencies, it is in the public interest to allow it.

Not bad. I can see the point. It’s a little like saying you can have free speech but you can’t yell, ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater. If the debate stopped there with the Supreme Court (as it pretty much does in Rendall’s article) then fine. But, guess what? It doesn’t.

In 1974, Chief Justice Berger wrote for a unanimous court that “government-enforced right of access inescapably dampens the vigor and limits the variety of public debate” (Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo (418 U.S. 241)). Interesting, no?

And then in 1984, in the ruling regarding the case of FCC v. League of Women Voters, 468 U.S. 364 Justice Brennan commented in his majority ruling that the Court would have to reconsider the Fairness Doctrine if it had “the net effect of reducing rather than enhancing speech.”

What changed between 1969 and 1984? Oh, I duuno, maybe…. maybe… maybe the number of broadcasters and media outlets?!?!?! Would this not have the effect of nullifying the Fairness Doctrine? Isn’t the fact that there were (and are) so many media outlets a glowing recommendation for this whole ‘free market’ thing?

The FCC in 1987 finally put the nails in the Fairness Doctrine’s coffin by stating, “the intrusion by government … restricts the journalistic freedom of broadcasters … inhibits the presentation of controversial issues of public importance to the detriment of the public and the degradation of the editorial prerogative of broadcast journalists.”

Just because something was done a long time ago, or maybe even was perhaps the right thing to do at the time, does not mean that it should be brought back to life just so Al Franken can have his old job back.

Is free speech really so evil, Rep. Kucinich and Sen. Dorgan? Are you guys really prepared to lead us down that slippery slope leading to Big Brother? It’s bad enough that the Republicans want sanitize what we see on TV. If the Dems want to censor everything too then what chance to do we have of keeping our country free?

And, um, guys, you gonna apply that to websites as well? Does that mean we might get some common sense views on MoveOn?