FCC Says Fairness Doctrine Not Needed

from the indeed dept

We don't always agree with FCC chair Kevin Martin -- and there are plenty of times that we find his positions laughable or disturbing -- but he's certainly correct when he says there's simply no need for the reinstatement of "The Fairness Doctrine," which would require broadcasters to give "equal time" to the opposition on controversial topics. Of course, that makes the incorrect assumption that controversial issues have two (and only two) sides, which is rarely the case. It also ignores the huge increase in outlets for anyone to get their views across. However, some politicians have been pushing hard to reinstate the doctrine, which actually feels a lot more like media restrictions than anything to get a message out. As some have pointed out, those who can't get heard shouldn't rely on some unnecessary fairness doctrine to get their message across. They should learn to formulate a better message.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Scott, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 2:59pm

    Amen, brother.

     

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  2.  
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    Ben, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 3:00pm

    This is typically self-regulated, as most networks have internal standards to avoid perceived conflicts, particularly with political candidates.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 3:32pm

    Re:

    Fox News

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 4:18pm

    Re: Fox News

    MSNBC

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 4:36pm

    Re: Re: Fox News

    dumbasses. Neither go over the public air waves...

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 4:36pm

    Re:

    guess you don't listen to npr or news/talk radio...

     

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  7.  
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    Charles Griswold, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 5:05pm

    Re: Re: MSNBC

    VH-1

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 5:06pm

    Vague theoretical reasons why the Fairness Doctrine is not needed show a forgetfulness of history.

    You don't give a single reason why the Fairness Doctrine is actually harmful. Who does it hurt?

    There are more than 2 sides to an issue? So what? Air them all. Who would that harm?

    Have a better message and everything will be ok? That's the "build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door" argument. It was never true in business or politics, and still isn't.

    Want proof? Answer this: why is it necessary to raise so much money to run for office if all you need is a "better message"?

    One of the (hoped for) benefits of the the Fairness Doctrine is to reduce the importance of big money in elections. You shouldn't be able to buy them.

    All us techies forget that most people still don't get that much info on the web.

     

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  9.  
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    Jo Mamma, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 5:27pm

    Re:

    Why is the fairness doctrine harmful? Because it restricts free speech instead of promoting it.

    I think it may have served it's purpose back in the day, but damn near everyone has access to views outside of their local newspapers and tv stations now... and if they don't, they probably aren't interested much in politics.

     

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  10.  
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    Beernutz, Jul 27th, 2007 @ 7:39pm

    How the hell do you think it RESTRICTS free speech? It merely allows equal time for all viewpoints. How is that restrictive?

     

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  11.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 27th, 2007 @ 8:11pm

    Re:

    How the hell do you think it RESTRICTS free speech? It merely allows equal time for all viewpoints. How is that restrictive?

    It's telling a commercial entity what it needs to talk about. That goes against free speech.

    And you're wrong that it allows equal time for all viewpoints. It allows equal time for ONE viewpoint, which is the one that is chosen as being the opponent to the viewpoint presented.

    It's a total restriction on the freedom of the press to decide what they want to cover. There are tons of different ways for anyone to get their message out there now. There is no reason for something that interferes with the judgment of a newsroom as to what belongs on the air.

     

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  12.  
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    Brian Smith, Jul 28th, 2007 @ 3:57am

    Better in whose opinion?

    "Formulate a better message?" Are you serious? If a network is determined not to broadcast your ideas, it may be because they just don't like them. If your idea threatens the status quo for that network, they're not going to broadcast it - period - unless they are compelled to in some way.

    It's sad to say this, but the networks are not there to be an arbiter and distributor of the "best ideas". I doubt they sit in meetings and decide which ideas have the most merit and facts to support them, and in many cases what constitutes "best" is a matter of opinion. I think they mostly go with what their bosses tell them to say, and their bosses are creatures of business and politics, not journalism.

     

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  13.  
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    Ambrose, Jul 28th, 2007 @ 6:19am

    Three quick points:

    1) There's such a thing as fairness over time. If you have the bosses on your show one week and the unions the next week, you've still been fair, you just haven't tried to cram them both into one show.

    2) If you force media organisations to include "both" sides of the story or not put the story to air, you immediately give factions veto power. If the unions don't want the bosses' viewpoint to get aired, they don't have to counter it, they can just refuse to take part.

    3) There are two sides to the evolution "controversy": science and religious nonsense. Nobody should give the religious nonsense people a platform, but they claim to be the "other side". Where will it end? Every time NASA shows a shot of the earth from space, I demand equal time for my belief that the world is flat.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2007 @ 7:32am

    Ambrose - the evolution

    Fairness Doctrine only applies to political issues.

    Evolution is science vs. religion - not a political issue.

    Of course, the people who want to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of try to make it a political issue - even though the Constitution forbids it.

    I sincerely hope further postings avoid this off topic issue and stay on the Fairness Doctrine subject.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2007 @ 7:37am

    Re: It's telling a commercial entity what it needs

    A business is not a citizen. The broadcast copmpanies only have a license to use the PUBLICLY owned frequencies, on condition that they accept certain "public good" requirements. See earlier articles on TechDirt and the replies.

    In America, corporations are dictating foreign and domestic policy by buying politicians and controlling the media. It's the Golden Rule joke made real - "He who has the gold makes the rules."

    It's not exactly what the Founding Fathers envisioned.

     

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  16.  
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    ConceptJunkie (profile), Jul 28th, 2007 @ 8:20am

    Typical libral response...

    When the liberals lose in the free market of ideas, they always fall back to government coercion, whether it's trying to use the court to "legislate" what they can't get through the legislature or forcing talk radio to cover their side, when the free market has soundly rejected it. I guess having a huge influence over TV and newspapers isn't enough, they need to have a government take-over of talk radio because in the free market of ideas, the liberals always lose. Talk radio doesn't capture more audience than all the TV networks combined because people are being forced to broadcast or forced to listen, it's because that's what people want. They tried Air America, which is the proper reponse, but Air America failed, so I guess rather than finding better hosts or better programs, they just go home crying to Mama Government.

    I can guarantee one thing, if Hillary Clinton gets elected, the Fairness Doctrine will rise from the dead again.

     

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  17.  
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    NoName, Jul 28th, 2007 @ 12:14pm

    Re:

    3) There are two sides to the evolution "controversy": science and religious nonsense. Nobody should give the religious nonsense people a platform, but they claim to be the "other side".
    That statement is a good example of "the incorrect assumption that controversial issues have two (and only two) sides, which is rarely the case." There are many more than 2 sides to even "the evolution controversy". There are many more religious sides than a Christian one, for example. And legitimate scientists differ on some of the details of scientific explanation. Then you have all the alternative/science-fiction/inter-galactic-fantasy explanations of how life arrived on earth too.

    No, if there are more than two people involved then there are likely to be more than two sides involved as well.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2007 @ 12:22pm

    Re: Ambrose - the evolution

    Fairness Doctrine only applies to political issues.

    Evolution is science vs. religion - not a political issue.
    Huh? I guess you haven't listened to many politicians or political debates then. Your proclamation doesn't change that.

    I sincerely hope further postings avoid this off topic issue and stay on the Fairness Doctrine subject.
    I guess you can hope all you want, but there are few controversial issues that don't get politicized and thus fall under the umbrella of the Fairness Doctrine.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2007 @ 12:26pm

    Re: Re: It's telling a commercial entity what it n

    A business is not a citizen.
    If only. The Supreme Court of the US has ruled that corporations are indeed legal "persons". Sad, but true.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2007 @ 12:30pm

    Re: Typical libral response...

    When the liberals lose in the free market of ideas, they always fall back to government coercion,
    Kind of like the Bush FCC's broadcast content "decency" rules. Oh wait, they don't call themselves "liberal", do they?

     

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  21.  
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    robwil, Jul 28th, 2007 @ 2:31pm

    Re: Typical libral response...

    That no doubt would be a good thing, as Martha would say. I remember when there was such thing as fairness in the use of the public air ways, and it did provide for a balance of information which we certainly do not have now. There needs to be some additional regulation of ownership, as a few major companies owning all of the facilities detracts dramatically from the accuracy and balanced coverage of media broadcasting. Likewise it does nothing to improve the public emergency management announcements to insure there is someone available to actually issue the warnings, as has not been the case in the past. The sooner the better, I say!

     

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  22.  
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    Brian Carnell, Jul 28th, 2007 @ 4:32pm

    "How the hell do you think it RESTRICTS free speech? It merely allows equal time for all viewpoints. How is that restrictive?"

    Yeah, can't wait until broadcasters have to give equal time to supporters of creationism and female circumcision (two very controversial issues).

    As for the decency rules...exactly...we should be eliminating FCC content regulation of the airwaves, not increasing it.

     

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  23.  
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    riff, Jul 29th, 2007 @ 7:06am

    "Fairness" Hmmm.... what a strange concept!

    Fairness is not something we currently have in the media. What we have is big corporate sponsors dictating to the media what they can or cannot say by with their fat wallets as a club. The movie "Wall Street" that dude Gecko or whatever the heck his name was? says "Greed... is good" what a crock. But unfortunately, that is what we have in this country today. Do you really think we would be having a housing crisis today if the banks had not gotten greedy and jacked up the interest rate on those variable and sub-prime mortgages? Can it be fixed? NO! The morons we have running this country are more interested in hacking each other to pieces rather than trying to help our sick system.

     

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  24.  
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    RangerMatt, Jul 29th, 2007 @ 4:57pm

    Fairness Doctrine, or excuse not to carry anything

    Just because the doctrine says they have to give equal time to whatever they air, doesn't mean they have to air anything in the first place. When you start saying that you'll have to give the same 30 minute slot to the other side, guess what? Broadcasters just stop airing either side of the debate, and then, we're right back to where we started from. It makes no sense. There are plenty of other places that you can go to find the "other side of the argument" if that's what you want. Don't think Fox is fair, turn on CNN. Don't like conservative radio, tune into NPR (which is for some reason still called National PUBLIC radio, yet they never listen to my opinion about what to air. ) There are choices out there, and like a great person once said, "If you don't like what's on the channel, you got a big knob that you can turn and make it all better. You pick which one."

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2007 @ 5:39am

    Re: "Fairness" Hmmm.... what a strange concept!

    So, do you form all of your opinions from what you see in movies? You must be a mental giant!

     

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  26.  
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    just me, Jul 30th, 2007 @ 7:10am

    The fairness Doctrine allowed two points of opposite view. But the thing is I noticed for the past year, it is the one with the stronger voice that got more airtime on these talk shows. So how is this fair? I am glad it's gone.

     

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  27.  
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    BTR1701, Jul 30th, 2007 @ 7:20am

    Re: Fairness

    > How the hell do you think it RESTRICTS
    > free speech?

    By practical effect.

    If the doctrine is revived, then a station that airs Sean Hannity for three hours will be obliged to devote three hours to "the other side" of the debate (whatever that is-- as if there are only two sides to every issue), which based on past history is a ratings loser. Not many stations want to devote a huge chunk of their broadcast day to something that won't make them any money nor would enjoy having to deal with the increased bureaucratic requirements that the doctrine would impose on them. So the easiest thing to do is just avoid the issue altogether and stop airing Hannity and switch formats to something that's both lucrative and safe-- like country music or pop music.

    So now the doctrine-- instead of letting everyonehear "both sides"-- has effectively squelched *all* debate of issues of public concern and had the practical effect of removing guys like Hannity and Limbaugh from the air.

    And what about TV shows like "The West Wing", written by notoriously liberal Aaron Sorkin, which was a weekly love-letter to the Democratic Party, espousing all sorts of liberal/leftist political content?

    Would the renewed Fairness Doctrine have forced NBC to produce and air another hour-long drama with the same quality writers and cast, but with a conservative slant?

    If your answer is "no", then you're a hypocrite. If your answer is "yes", then all you would realistically accomplish is that "The West Wing" would be canceled. You'd have only succeed in having an Emmy-award winning show yanked off the air because when faced with the choice, no network is going bleed themselves of hundreds of millions of dollars to produce counter-programming to satisfy some big-government fairness requirement. They'll just pull the show and replace it with another mindless sitcom or reality show.

    And won't we all be better off then?

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2007 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re: Fairness

    if your answer is "no," you're not a hypocrite. There's a difference between a television show and a news show. People will treat things they hear from one a lot differently then another. If I turn on the news and they say there was a bombing somewhere, I believe it. If I turn on the "West Wing" and they say there was a bombing somewhere, I *won't* believe it. You'll automatically treat something as a story and therefore not fact whereas you'll treat something else immediately as news. If you disagree with something in a tv show, you tend to not like it and whether or not you continue watching is irrelevant. you just assume that character is stupid and laugh at his point of view. you see a news anchor saying the same thing, it'll have a completely different effect on your point of view.

    Case in point, someone will use some details they heard from the news as information to back up their arguments. however, you'll never see an intelligent individual use information from "the west wing" to back up their argument. The average individual is expected to assume that anything in that show can and may be made up. You're not supposed to assume that with the news.

    Comparing the news and a television show is ridiculous. If you're going to say that the average individual can't tell the difference between a tv show and a news show, then you may as well conclude they can't tell the difference between a news anchor's opinion and something as fact.

     

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  29.  
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    BTR1701, Jul 30th, 2007 @ 10:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Fairness

    Well, then there should be no argument when it comes to guys like Limbaugh and Hannity and Glenn Beck, either. None of those shows are news shows. They don't claim to be news and they promote themselves as news. They're political commentary and opinion, not news. Just like the editorial page in a newspaper is opinion, not news.

    No one who is in favor of reviving this doctrine is complaining about the news-- except maybe Fox News and since they're on cable, they'd be exempt anyway. What they're complaining about is NON-NEWS shows that offer opinion and analysis of current events and politics, like Limbaugh does. And that's exactly what Sorkin did with "The West Wing". He used that show to address current events and politics. The fact that he did it by putting the words in the mouths of fictional characters should be irrelevant to anyone concerned with fairness. If you want to require counter-programming for Rush, you should be just as concerned with providing counter-programming for the next Sorkin. After all, what's the point of having a Fairness Doctrine if all someone has to do to end-run the whole thing is to dress their rhetoric up as a drama and make actors say the words instead of pundits?

     

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  30.  
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    stevek, Jul 30th, 2007 @ 10:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Fairness

    The Fairness doctrine existed for nearly 60 years without creating the problems its detractors whine about today. The doctrine applies only to public airwaves that are licensed by the government -- so it does not apply to such entities as FNC. Yes, the market should create and foster general debate; however, as media consolidation has run rampant it has left the vast majority of of the market controlled by four companies -- thus there is really little market competition. Without vigorous competition it is clear that owners will seek to protect their current status rather then offer diversity or opinion.

    I would suggest you look at someone like Ed Schultz, whose ratings are superior, but is kept off certain public markets due to his content not following a particular line. This suggests that the free market is not working for the benefit of the license owners -- the public. But, instead, is being manipulated to maintain a status quo. When ever a market is being manipulated it is the government's responsibility to step in.

     

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  31.  
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    Clueby4, Jul 30th, 2007 @ 1:59pm

    How's this for FairL

    No Fairness Doctrine = Backhoe to Private Tubes crossing my land.

    You don't get right of way/access to public and private property for free. They've already managed to get rid of the Fairness Doctrine, and are working to get rid of franchise agreements.

    Frankly, I don't think the fairness doctrine goes far enough. There should be regulations on anything that claims to be NEWS, ie parrot a press release or fail to fact check, etc. You know put some fear into them, notice if someone is accused of a crime the use the word "allege" but if they're reading some Homeland security press script the lose that objectivity.

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2007 @ 7:30pm

    Re: Re: Fairness

    Would the renewed Fairness Doctrine have forced NBC to produce and air another hour-long drama with the same quality writers and cast, but with a conservative slant?
    Are you really so stupid that you believe the Fairness Doctrine applied to fictional dramas or just some wing-nut shill?

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2007 @ 7:37pm

    Re: How's this for FairL

    You don't get right of way/access to public and private property for free.
    Sure you do, if you've got the right politicians in your pocket. And the govt. has got plenty of guns to enforce it too. Taking a backhoe to those "tubes" would be a very good first step to winding up on the wrong end of an FBI sniper scope.

     

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  34.  
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    BTR1701, Jul 31st, 2007 @ 5:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Fairness

    Ah, so all Rush and his crew would have to do to evade the Fairness Doctrine is present his views in the format of "fictional" skits? Come up with a few characters and have them act out a dialogue laced with all his right-wing rhetoric? Somehow I don't think that would fly. Yet a TV show whose writer who does the same thing by putting his political views into the words of characters portraying government officials would be exempt? How exactly would that work?

    And I ask again, what's the point of having a Fairness Doctrine if all someone has to do to end-run the whole thing is to dress their rhetoric up as a drama and make actors say the words instead of pundits?

     

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  35.  
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    Overcast, Aug 3rd, 2007 @ 3:29pm

    How the hell do you think it RESTRICTS free speech? It merely allows equal time for all viewpoints. How is that restrictive?

    But there's no law saying you can't run a show of your own with an opposing viewpoint now...

    I can't believe they actually did something that can be considered a preservation of free speech...

    Well, wonders will never cease.

    The concept of a free market is enough of a 'Fairness Doctrine' - everyone has equal rights to compete without government interference.

    If some shows are more popular, I suspect it's because the ratings are reflective of that. I'm not saying I agree with any point of view on any talk show - because, for the most part I think *both* parties are corrupt.

    But I think people should be free to listen to what they want and talk shows should be free to say what they want.

     

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  36.  
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    chris, Aug 15th, 2007 @ 1:09pm

    fairness doctrine

    im on a debate team in high school and this is the topic. If any one has any info on this topic, plz email me at bwln_chrs@yahoo.com

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2007 @ 7:18am

    NICE

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2007 @ 7:19am

    Re:

    BICH

     

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  39.  
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    Tom Johnson, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 4:10am

    Fairness Doctrine

    The Fairness Doctrine applied to the public airways between 1934 until Reagan repealed it in 1987, and was applied to broadcast radio (It did/does not apply to cable tv). It required broadcasters to devote some
    of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters.

    Contrasting views could be done through news segments, public affairs shows or editorials. Even just not hanging up on callers who had a different point of view.

    In 1969 United States Supreme Court called it the single most important requirement of operation in the public interest for grant of a renewal of license

    So, what does the Fairness Doctrine NOT require:

    It does not require that each program be internally balanced.

    It does not mandate equal time for opposing points of view.

    It does not require that the balance of a stations program lineup be anything like 50/50.

    With regard to conservative talk shows, they have always flourished, even when this in force. Not one Fairness Doctrine decision issued by the FCC has ever concerned itself with talk radio.

    While it may be true that it was "a pain to enforce" its main value was in its codification of the principle that broadcasters had a responsibility to
    present a range of views on controversial issues.

    In 1987, the Fairness Doctrine was repealed under Ronald Reagan and conservative radio swept that land as radio stations saw no need to offer a counter point to these opinions. In 2002, Edward Monks, a lawyer in Eugene,
    Oregon, studied the two commercial talk stations in his town. He found 80 hours per week, more than 4,000 hours per year, programmed for Republican and conservative talk shows, without a single second programmed for a Democratic or liberal perspective. This was in EUGENE OREGON!

    Monks rightly concluded that "Political opinions expressed on talk radio are approaching the level of uniformity that would normally be achieved only in a totalitarian society.

     

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