“Fairness Doctrine” = Conservative Censorship

Friday, November 21, 2008

Obama’s administration is currently vetting for a suitable politician to sit on the five-person FCC board and tip its majority to favor his policies. Once that is accomplished, the FCC is expected to reinstate the unfair “Fairness Doctrine” that many say will wipe out talk radio as we now know it, silencing one of the only forums for conservative views left.

The “Fairness Doctrine” was originally created in 1949 to protect freedom of speech and encourage discussion of controversial subjects by preventing the limited radio bandwidths available at that time from being monopolized by a viewpoint and ignoring the others. It instead required all stations that aired political commentary to “afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of public importance.” This usually meant that a station had to either invite one guest on to briefly discuss their opposing point of view or to air a short segment doing the same. A station failing to do so could be shut down by the revocation of that outlet’s broadcast license.

As the decades passed, however, the “Fairness Doctrine” started to show three major flaws that actually prevented its very purpose of ensuring freedom of speech and the equal airing of viewpoints:

All political viewpoints are already equally available today. When the “Fairness Doctrine” was created there were very few radio and television channels available. If these stations all showed only one viewpoint, it was next to impossible for the other viewpoints to be heard. Today, however, with the advent of advanced television, radio, satellite, internet and even cell phone technology, there are millions if not billions of media channels available for all imaginable viewpoints to be accessed. Thus, the original argument for the “Fairness Doctrine” has become moot in the late 20th and 21st centuries.

Giving the government power to judge what can be said in the media opens the door to unconstitutional censorship of viewpoints contrary to them. When a party is given power to determine what can and cannot be said in the media with the only criteria that it must be “fair and balanced,” it does not take them long to begin to abuse that power and use it to silence those media outlets critical to their policies. This happened several times during the 48 years that the “Fairness Doctrine” was in effect. Telecommunications scholar Thomas W. Hazlett revealed that under the Nixon Administration, "License harassment of stations considered unfriendly to the Administration became a regular item on the agenda at White House policy meetings." (Thomas W. Hazlett, "The Fairness Doctrine and the First Amendment," The Public Interest, Summer 1989, p. 105.) Former Kennedy Administration official Bill Ruder admitted "We had a massive strategy to use the fairness doctrine to challenge and harass the right-wing broadcasters, and hope the challenge would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue." (Tony Snow, "Return of the Fairness Demon," The Washington Times, September 5, 1993, p. B3.)

Because of its arbitrary enforcement, the “Fairness Doctrine” actually inhibits free speech and discussion of controversial subjects. As time went on, broadcast journalists began to see that the “Fairness Doctrine” was not only being used to violate the First Amendment rights of free speech/free press (which should allow reporters to make their own decisions about balancing stories), but actually had the “chilling effect” of silencing media coverage of controversial topics altogether: In order to avoid the requirement to go out and find all contrasting viewpoints on every issue raised in a story, many journalists simply avoided any covering it. It was much safer to steer clear than to risk the arbitrary enforcement and punishments of the FCC.


Under the Regan administration (and in accordance with his deregulation policies), the FCC began to rethink the “Fairness Doctrine,” finding that it "had the net effect of reducing, rather than enhancing, the discussion of controversial issues of public importance," and therefore was in violation of constitutional principles. ("FCC Ends Enforcement of Fairness Doctrine," Federal Communications Commission News, Report No. MM-263, August 4, 1987.) Former FCC Chairman James Quello stated that "The fairness doctrine doesn't belong in a country that's dedicated to freedom of the press and freedom of speech." (Doug Halonen, "Twelve to Watch in 1993," Electronic Media, January 25, 1993, p. 66.) Even the liberal Washington Post agreed:

“The truth is…that this is no ‘fairness’ whatsoever in the ‘fairness’ doctrine. On the contrary, it is a chilling federal attempt to compel some undefined ‘balance’ of what ideas radio and television news programs are to include….The ‘fairness doctrine’ undercuts free, independent, sound and responsive journalism—substituting government dictates. That is deceptive, dangerous and, in a democracy, repulsive.”
(Washington Post editorial, June 24, 1987)

Democrats are openly calling for a return of the “Fairness Doctrine” so that conservative talk radio can be silenced. Months after the “Fairness Doctrine” was repealed in 1987, Rush Limbaugh’s radio show took off to a phenomenal success that is credited with saving the AM band. Many other conservative talk shows have also found a broad and lucrative base eager for their views. While some liberal shows have been attempted (Air America, Jim Hightower, Ed Schultz, etc.) few have been able to find much support. Meanwhile, the TV news shows, who were already decidedly liberal in their spin as the “Fairness Doctrine” went away, have grown even more bold in their shameless liberal-agenda spun reporting of the news (with the notable exception of Fox News). With the evident power conservative radio and the slow demise of the network TV news stations (again, with the notable exception of Fox News), several Democrat politicians have been calling for the return of the “Fairness Doctrine” so that they can silence their opposition from spreading its views.
  • Al Gore called it a “protection” that was removed during the Reagan years.

  • Democrat Senator Jeff Bingham says he wants us to return to the “Fairness Doctrine” which will ensure talk radio will be “at a higher level and more intelligent” (ie: more in support of his views).

  • When Senator Dianne Feinstein’s liberal immigration bill was defeated in 2007, she vindictively called for a return of the doctrine, stating “talk radio tends to be one-sided....It's explosive. It pushes people to, I think, extreme views without a lot of information.”

  • Democrat Senator Charles Schumer (affectionately known as “Schmucky”) had the nerve to say “The very same people who don’t want the Fairness Doctrine want the FCC to limit pornography on the air. You can’t say, ‘government hands off in one area’ to a commercial enterprise, but you’re allowed to intervene in another. That’s not consistent.”

  • Other supporters of censuring conservative talk radio include Senators Richard Durbin, John Kerry and of course Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

These politicians are not calling for the same regulations as before, however. They want equal time for each viewpoint, a demand that not only will force stations to air unpopular liberal programs that will jeopardize their survival, but a demand that is unreasonable given the infinite possible sides of an issue. Such a demand is sure to drive our talk radio stations to either run out of business or switch to playing music all day. Both outcomes would please the supporters of the “Fairness Doctrine.”



Media Censorship of opposing opinions is a totalitarian institution and has no place in a democracy. Perhaps the most distressing thing about the proposed reincarnation of the "Fairness Doctrine" is the public and main-stream media's ignorance (or, in many cases, complicit silence) in recognizing it for what it really is: totalitarian censorship of of views opposing the party currently in power. One of the first things Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini and other totalitarian leaders did to ensure their political power was place strict restrictions on all media outlets against any press critical of their regimes. Our founding fathers, knowing that the media contained the power to shape public perception and opinions, placed freedom of speech and freedom of press as the first and most important right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. This wise foresight has kept America as one of the very few homes of freedom and liberty throughout the world's last two and a half centuries. Some liberal politicians, in their push for socialist power, are completely willing to give up our nation's heritage of free markets and press in their blind thirst for power.


Once again, as part of the few that actually understand and appreciate our Constitution and system of government and society, it rests upon us to cut through the "newspeak" of our socialist-seeking media and politicians and reveal to our family, friends and neighbors what is actually going on. The "Fairness Doctrine" is not about "fairness and balance" but about censurship. You can be sure that should the "Fairness Doctrine" return, we will not see "equal time and treatment" given to conservative viewpoints on CNN or the New York Times. How long will it take before individual citizens sharing their views with their neighors will be cited by the government for being "biased and unfair"? How long until our freedom of demostration will be infrindged upon in the name of "fairness and balance"? Americans! Take back crontrol of your government and demand that they uphold the Constitution!

Articles:
When 'fairness' means 'censorship'
The Fairness Doctrine at Work
Blackout of Left’s “Fairness” Doctrine Push

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