Written by Brian Fitzgerald
June 11, 2008
By Brian Fitzpatrick
Political activists and even certain U.S. senators have argued that the federal government should reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine, which would require broadcasters to air both sides of controversial issues. Opponents charge that Fairness Doctrine advocates are trying to reduce the impact of conservative talk radio.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has introduced The Broadcaster Freedom Act (HR 2905), which would bar the Federal Communications Commission from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine.
The controversy touches on America’s most fundamental civic values. Do we still cherish freedom of speech, or are some of us succumbing to the tyrannical impulse to stifle the speech of political adversaries? Do our leaders trust us to accept responsibility to govern ourselves, or do they wish to control which information we receive?
Three principal arguments support resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine.
First, the "scarcity" argument holds that the airwaves are public property with a limited number of broadcast frequencies, so government can and should intervene if the public debate is out of balance.
Second, the "censorship" argument holds that major corporations are muzzling liberal opinion on the radio, so Americans are not hearing both sides of issues.
Third, the “public interest” argument holds that the Fairness Doctrine would increase the amount and variety of opinions available to the public.
Are these arguments valid? They are myths.
1. The scarcity argument. Is conservative dominance of commercial talk radio distorting the national debate about public policy issues?
2. The censorship argument. Are Americans hearing both sides of debates about controversial public policy issues, or are liberal voices being shut out?
3. The public interest argument. Would the Fairness Doctrine increase or reduce discussion about public policy issues? History says speech would be curtailed.
When the Fairness Doctrine was in effect, talk radio avoided controversial topics. Most stations programmed only general talk and advice. Politicians repeatedly have used the Fairness Doctrine to chill speech. John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson both used the Fairness Doctrine to stifle criticism, suppress the speech of political adversaries, and force radio stations to provide free air time.
Efforts by liberal politicians to restore the Fairness Doctrine bring to mind the worst moment of Israel’s King David. David was not satisfied with his many wives and concubines; he also had to have the beautiful Bathsheba, the only wife of one of his soldiers. American liberals already dominate four of the five most important news and information media, and they are determined to take over the fifth medium as well.
America has so many sources of news and information available that no federal regulation of broadcasting content can possibly be justified on the grounds of public interest. The Fairness Doctrine has an ugly history of political abuse directly intended to restrict the free exchange of ideas. As liberals propose and agitate for a resumption of the Fairness Doctrine, history may repeat itself.
Full Report | PDF Version
Brian Fitzpatrick is Senior Editor at the Culture and Media Institute. In addition to overseeing the CMI Web site and analyzing media coverage of cultural issues, he has written three in-depth special reports: "The National Cultural Values Survey," "The Media Assault on American Values," and "Unmasking the Myths Behind the Fairness Doctrine."