Report: Move To Bring Back The Fairness Doctrine Gaining Steam

from the it's-ba-ack dept

Back in January, Congressman and dark horse Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich expressed interest in bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, an old FCC rule that required broadcast media companies to present issues in a “balanced” manner. The rule hasn’t been in effect since 1987, and for good reason. Not only was it a violation of the First Amendment, but it was arbitrary, in that there’s really no way to define what a balanced reporting of an issue might be. Today the rule makes even less sense, because the proliferation of new media acts as a countervailing force to any bias, real or perceived, on the part of major media outlets. At the time Kucinich made his proposal, it seemed like mainly a theoretical issue, considering the fact that he’s pretty far out of the mainstream, even within his own party. But word is that the new House leadership is now interested in the matter (via TLF) and wants to pursue the issue in the coming months. It should be stated at the outset that the magazine making these claims is the conservative American Spectator, which bases its story on anonymous sources close to the house leadership, so you may choose to take the whole thing with a grain or two of salt. However, if the sources are to be believed, the desire to reinstate the fairness doctrine is motivated by a desire to see more Democratic voices on the air in the hopes of countering major talk radio hosts, like Rush Limbaugh. In other words, the goal is expressly counter to the First Amendment. It’s pretty plain to see why the Fairness Doctrine should stay in mothballs. Not only is it irrelevant in a world that’s trending away from broadcast media, but it’s too easily used as a tool to influence political discussion on the air.

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Comments on “Report: Move To Bring Back The Fairness Doctrine Gaining Steam”

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Streaker says:

Re: Not necessary

Yes, well, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing and they’re more popular than ever. Interesting that as soon as the Democrats gained the majority, one of the first things they try to do is to stop citizens from saying things they don’t like.

I don’t recall the Republicans trying to shut down Air America or CNN.

Ajax 4Hire (profile) says:

Fairness Doctriny is not fair..

It simply means that for every viewpoint, the ‘news’ media _MUST_ provide equal time for _ANY_ opposition.

As an example, if I had an opposing opinion from Neal and James shown above, Techdirt _MUST_ give me exposure as an opposing viewpoint.

The doctrine was put forth to allow anyone of political opinion to retort anyone anywhere.

This will have the effect of preventing _ANY_ news about politics making it to the news outlets. If CNN reports favorably about Obama, then the must give equal time to _ALL_ of the other candidates. There are a lot more candidates that you do not hear about. The Fairness Doctrine would force CNN to give equal air time to _ALL_ of these other candidates, ALL of them, not just the party sponsored candidates, “Hello, I am Ajax 4Hire and I am running for governer of california.” I insist on equal “Fair” Air time.

Wyndle says:

Re: Fairness Doctriny is not fair..

Actually, the equal time law is seperate. The Fairness Doctrine requires that you notify someone you will criticize ahead of time and they can call the local radio station and demand time to respond. Since Rush is on hundreds of stations, the work load required to get a response on the air is massive. The original intent seemed well founded but the result was that radio stations avoided any political talk or commentators and it had the full effect of silencing free speech, and it wasn’t just political speech either.

Ajax 4Hire (profile) says:

If the Fairness Doctrine is brought back, I

would insist that every radio and TV station air my personal opposition to every political statement made.

I just need to declare myself a candidate for whatever.
This sort of policy would have no end in sight. You can keep splitting the Fair response over and over again.

TV and radio stations would be forced to set-aside 84 hours a week (Thats half a week) just to give all oposing views air time. Faced with that requirement, CNN would stop political coverage.

Rush Limbaugh could insist on CNN air time; just declare yourself a candidate, Air America responding to comments on Fox NEWS.

This is a classic “flat” view of the world.
Everything is either left/right, top/bottom, good/bad, heads/tails.
But opinion and politics does not have a single oposing view, there are 100s, 1000s of oposing viewpoints and the Fairness Doctrine taken to its conclusions would require every person with an oposing opinion the opportunity to respond to any comment put forth on the Radio/TV land.

End of news coverage.

Rstr5105 says:

Re: If the Fairness Doctrine is brought back, I

So, I may be about a week late on this one, but I’ve been mulling it over.

If the fairness doctrine is re-enacted, and the news outlets are forced to spend so much time a week covering the 1000’s of differing opinions that they simply stop airing political news, it could be a very good thing.

If the news stops airing political coverage people would be forced to go out and LEARN something about the candidates before going to the polls and blindly voting for whichever candidate has spent the most on FUD/Propaganda.

Just an idea.

Gerry says:

It’s always easy to bash those that are successful at what they do, like Limbaugh or Fox. Much harder to present a logical opposing view, because you have to actually think of something intelligent to say. That’s been the downfall of left-leaning media like Air America or the MSM… even lefties get tired of nothing but angry tirades against the right. A reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine is nothing more than a ploy to force the talk radio/news/comment market to accomodate a segment it’s already weeded out. Let the people decide what they want to listen to, not politicians!

Witty Nickname says:

Be fair now

Next time we find out we have a Republican pedofile in Congress, should we wait to report it until we find a democratic pedofile?

I agree with your statement about taking it with a grain of salt – Limbaugh has been talking about it for over a year and that it is coming – and only Dennis the Menace is supporting it. Pelosi has more important things on her mind.

TheDock22 says:

Re: Be fair now

Next time we find out we have a Republican pedofile in Congress, should we wait to report it until we find a democratic pedofile?

That’s silly. Pedophilia would be a criminal case, not political. This is simply a move to provide equal airtime so both sides can give their opinion on the same political issue.

I don’t see why this is a bad thing. If one politician says they are for the media to have unlimited rights, of course the media is only going to show that opinion because it benefits them. With the Fairness Doctrine they would also have show why it would be a bad thing to give the media unlimited rights. This would lead to a better informed voter rather than one being spoon-fed by the media.

I think this would also stop some corruption among the media outlets. There have to be some politicians and organizations lining a few pockets to make sure their viewpoint is the only one reported on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Be fair now

And that would be the clincher. Even a seemingly straighfoward issue like gay marriage (not civil unions, that reminds me of the old “separate but equal” days) may have more than simple yes or no viewpoints. Those 2 or 3 hour candidate debates from a month or so ago would spent an hour on a single issue just so that everyone could get a fair share of air time and those were all Dem. or all Rep.

Ferin says:

To be honest, it would be nice to see media companies make more of an effort to represent more than one side of an issue. I saw a Good Morning America segment this morning before I left for work on immigration reform. The two pundits they brought in to discuss it were Geraldo Rivera and Glenn Beck, for god’s sake. Not that GMA is exaclty hard news, but really, they couldn’t dig up someone from the liberal side of things to discuss the issue?

That said, as a free speech crazy, I do think that the doctrine itself doesn’t hold up to scrutiny very well. I don’t think it should be reenacted. It might be a decent idea though, to see congress pass some kind of resolution to the FCC asking them to encourage “greater diversity or balance of viewpoints” in reporting or some other BS like that. Might just be nice to see them tell the news outlets to cut out the “some say” reporting and get back to using actual sources.

Anonymous Coward says:

FCC Appointments

Doesn’t Kucinich know that the FCC is controlled by Presidential appointees? In a Republican administration the doctrine would be forced on NPR and CBS, in a Democratic administration only Limbaugh and Fox News would be censored.

I don’t think it is possible to create a “Fair” newscast to everyone – if a cross is burned in someones front yard we will have to have the KKK explain why it is important to do such a thing.

dshale says:

Fairness? Doctrine

It seems to me that we already have a fairness doctrine. It is called capitalism. We listen to what we like. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are the top three talk radio shows. The reason for this is that is what the majority of the listening public like to hear. There has been an alternative to them called Air America. Even though George Soros has contributed heavily to that network, it has failed. I guess that if they can’t ram liberalism down our throats, they will try another way to silence the intelligent conserative voice in this country. Fairness? I think fairness in the United States is freedom to listen to what I choose.

TheDock22 says:

Re: Fairness? Doctrine

Exactly, you have a choice to listen to whichever side of the issue you want and then walk away before hearing the other side. I want to hear both sides to every political issue, but I am being denied that right by mainstream broadcasting. Why can’t I have the same freedom you do? To listen to what I want?

Of course, if I’m in the minority it only makes sense why I am denied the right. I would rather the government spend it’s time on more important issues than this if 80% of the people out there are against the Fairness Doctrine.

rEdEyEz says:

Re: Re: Fairness? Doctrine

This just goes to show how out of touch with reality this Kucinich character is.

The free market determines the success/failure of radio, and no “fairness legislation” will ever change that.

…This is the kind of intellectualism and rational thought that “Dem Denny” has to offer? My suggestion to Denny would be to go back to focusing on the “impeachment of Dick Cheney.”

Yeah, that’ll get you elected, Chum(p).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Fairness? Doctrine

Hey, ass, you do not have a “freedom” that infringes on the rights of others, namely, to freely association only with individuals they desire association with. You tell a private enterprise that they have to play the shows you want them to play, and you’re messing with that–and you have no such freedom.

Brad Eleven (profile) says:

You are not the customer of ad-supported media

It’s a lowdown dirty shame that fairness has had to be legislated. Do your homework, fools. Why was it originally implemented? (hint: media control == raw political power)

It’s not a liberal/conservative issue. If you’re OK with the current slate of slanted broadcasters, great. Would you be OK with a slate that featured people that you didn’t agree with? Think about it.

What you like to listen to has ZERO to do with on-air longevity. Witness the spectacular fall of Imus: They got to him by getting to his sponsors. You are not the customer of ad-supported media: The advertisers are. Your preferences are merely fodder for advertising rates.

Caveat: I’m old enough to remember how the Fairness Doctrine was implemented. The station owner’s preferred speaker got lavish production, prime time, and every other advantage that anyone could think of. The other speakers who claimed their equal time (doesn’t happen automatically) got one camera, one mic, a table, and a metal folding chair.

Think it over. It’s EXPENSIVE to own/operate any kind of broadcasting station. Don’t you think the owners feel entitled to something? Like influence?

John B says:

The Fairness Doctrine, which has been around for as long as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has (until 1987), only ever applied (and presumably would still only apply) to broadcast media, like broadcast TV and radio. So all this talk about CNN and Techdirt having to provide opposing views is nonsense and a red herring.

The rationale for the Fairness Doctrine is that airwaves are publicly owned space and that they are leased (not owned) by private interests with the understanding that they will be used responsibly. Think how you would feel if your local public park would only allow Communist-sponsored events to be held in it and wouldn’t let conservative or free market groups hold any events there? This is essentially what Fox and Limbaugh and some others, including Air America, are doing. I think it has had a corrosive effect, just as the public park scenario I described would. I don’t want my public airwaves to be monopolized by either political party.

Another distraction that’s being thrown out by folks who oppose the Fairness Doctrine is that somehow, the news would have to provide alternative “facts” to any controversial issue on which they reported. Not so. The Fairness Doctrine only applies to editorial content and using pejorative (slanted/spin) language, not factual reporting.

As to the Constitutionality of the doctrine: The Fairness Doctrine has been challenged and was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1969 in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC. Here is a quote from the Supreme Court ruling in that case:

“A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a… frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the Government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others…. It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.”

cutter892 says:

you want a conservative point of view turn on your local talk radio station. You want a liberal point of view turn on ABC,NBC,CBS,CNN or get any newspaper like the Washington Time, New York Times, LA Times etc. My point is that liberals tried to get into talk radio and failed misserably. They failed so bad the the head of Air America had to steal money from a children’s organization to keep Air America running. Thats how bad it was. the market has spoken and they don’t want to hear liberal voices on the radio when they get it every where else.

D says:

Re: Re:

You’ve obviously never heard of the Stephanie Miller show, have you?

Air America Radio was destined to fail for one simple reason, it was crap radio. It wasn’t funny, and it was rarely informative without getting hysterical. I’ve been listening to the Stephanie Miller show for over two years now and I still laugh, and learn, whenever I listen to it. That’s good radio.

If Clear Channel lineup planners would quit replacing shows like Miller’s (which is highly successful in the ratings fights in every location it’s available) with low-ratings conservative programming ‘just because’… maybe then you’d believe a liberal radio program is possible.

This whole “the market has spoken” crap is just that, crap. The “media execs and planners” have spoken should be more like it. Get a good show like The Stephanie Miller Show in a market and it does well; but it’s hard to do well when the higher ups in charge of programming lineup refused to allow it in.

John B says:

an example of corporate censorship in the media

Here is an example of how corporate advertisers with deep pockets can use their clout to censor reporting on issues that affect public health.

I should preface this by saying I do not buy organic milk and drink milk with bovine growth hormone (BGH) almost every day. I also have done consulting work for Monsanto in the past and think that, by and large, Monsanto is a great company. I also think that genetically engineering food is an important technology with many potential benefits and support research in this area. But on to the story:

Two Fox News reporters working for WTVT in Tampa Bay, Florida, uncovered evidence related to the potential health risks associated with drinking milk with BGH in it. Initially the Fox News producers were very enthusiastic about the story. Then Monsanto, the company that produces BGH, stepped in and threatened legal action if Fox didn’t edit the story beyond recognition. They demanded that Fox not include information in its report that was important and verifiable.

The reporters refused and were fired. A Florida jury unanimously decided that Akre was wrongfully fired by Fox Television when she refused to broadcast (in the jury’s words) “a false, distorted or slanted story” about the widespread use of BGH in dairy cows. They further maintained that she deserved protection under Florida’s whistle blower law. Akre was awarded a $425,000 settlement.

Fox News appealed the case. During their appeal, Fox asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. Fox attorneys did not dispute Akre’s claim that they pressured her to broadcast a false story, they simply maintained that it was their right to do so.

Fox then filed a series of motions in a Tampa Circuit Court seeking more than $1.7 million in trial fees and costs from both Akre and Wilson. So much for corporate interests as the watchdog for free speech…

halycon404 says:

Even if this passed, it wouldn’t change anything. Think about the point behind the spectacular Crossfire interview with John Stewart. Or, how many of us have seen interviews between two opposing viewpoints where nothing is ever answered because the anchors slow or change the course of the debate? News used to be just that, news. Now news is entertainment. You can’t get the ratings if people don’t watch it. News outlets have become very skillful about vetting stories and how to place breaks in the reporting to give maximum entertainment value. Unfortunately, the content of the stories suffer because of that.

haywood says:

AS if Dennis Kucinich mattered

It isn’t like he might accidentally win, or that he might be taken seriously. I lived near Cleveland when he started his career as the youngest councilman ever. He came in vowing to end all the corruption, and before he finished his first term, he was at least as corrupt as the worst of the existing council. He is a career politician, but not a very effective one.

Norman (profile) says:

This is just an attempt to kill off opposing views

Give me a break. There already ARE opposing views on the radio. Fact is those shows supplying the oppsing views are doing really poorly. Why is that? They don’t have many listeners. Whay is that? Becasue peopel don’t want to listen to them. Seems pretty fair to me already. The market has already spoken. Most radio listeners seem to like the conservative talk shows. If this weren’t the case the top shows wouldn’t the shows the left just love to smear. So let’s force peopel to listen to things they have already made very clear they don’t want to hear. There is a reason the liberal shows don’t do nearly as well as the conservative shows do. The majority of listeners simply don’t like the liberal shows. I see thing unfair about that.

Overcast says:

Let the market decide who’s on the air. If they are worth listening to, they will get sponsors and advertising dollars.

After all, who will determine what’s “fair”?

Plus, this ‘fairness’ doctrine and free speech are not both possible to have at one time.

Doesn’t matter, I’ll listen to what I want anyway. Until I guess they REQUIRE us to listen to them, perhaps on loudspeakers in our houses or a single state-run radio station.

Redalert says:

It's just one more step to a third world country

Yes we know what a politician means by balanced.

But this is just the latest attack. We’ve been losing our first amendment freedoms for some time. Americans can’t put their Wii’s aside long enough to think about their government.

McCain Feingold campaign-finance law prohibits criticism 90 or 60 days before an election. It would make Stalin proud. Our imperial Supreme Court agreed. There was no outcry by the citizens who much protect our constitutional republic.

America is ruled more each day by the elitists and experts. We deserve what we get because the average American doesn’t care and won’t start caring until they lose it.

John B says:

A Question

Who controls the broadcast media companies? Large multi-national corporations. That’s not an opinion. It’s a fact. This is who you are letting decide what news is and what is fit for you to hear. And we all know how much large multi-national corporations care about freedom and liberty, especially the individual’s freedom, don’t we? And we also know how public minded they are. And, of course, these large multinational corporations are as pure as the driven snow and have no interest at all in affecting politics. Right?

Does anyone remember how the Nazis came to power? It wasn’t just the government stepping up and stomping own on dissent. The one-party government and large corporations co-opted each other, because they both had a very strong interest in a compliant, obedient workforce that didn’t have the information available to them to question what was going on, much less change what was going on.

It is in large multi-national media corporations’ interest to not have real debates and not present multiple sides of the issue. Part of a functional democracy is that citizens get to hear more than one side of an issue. The government should facilitate this. Left on their own, most people (and conservatives especially, although not exclusively by any means) want to hear someone who has their viewpoints reinforce the opinions they already have, and this is exactly why conservative talk radio thrives. Their “news” programs don’t really report or analyze, they pump up the base.

If the fairness doctrine had been in place in 2002 and 2003, the broadcast media would have had to air the dissenting views on WMD and the Iraq-Al Quaida connection. These views were being voiced, but just not in the broadcast media. If the broadcast media had been required to air all sides of the political analysis, people would have been able to see that the reasons for invading Iraq were specious at best and falsified at worst, and we probably could have avoided this big mess we’re in now in Iraq.

Let’s see what that would have saved America:

– More than 3,000 soldiers’ lives (and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives)

– Half a TRILLION dollars in taxpayer money that we are borrowing and on which we will have to pay interest

– American international credibility, perhaps for when we might really need it to protect us from a real threat to our security (i.e., Iran)

Tell me which of the above is not something that true conservatives would have liked to have saved?

One of the benefits of the Fairness Doctrine is that it helps put the breaks on the bandwagon effect. It forces a real, multisided debate on issues of importance and results in better policies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

John B. Dow Jones (and the Wall Street Journal) are controlled by a family.

Dow Jones(NYSE: DJ) is a large corporation and not privately owned or operated.

Fox is controlled by a man.

Fox is owned by the large News Corporation (NYSE: NWS) and not privately owned or operated.

The media is generally considered liberal and to the left, not to the right.

The media is generally considered to be to the right and subservient to the government.

There were many more articles against the war than their were for it, yet the one New York Times story proves that the right controls the media?

The media generally acted as cheerleaders for the administration’s rush to war, parroting administration claims without much question. To claim that the cheer leading consisted of only one story is ludicrous.

Cober says:

Public Airways are not Private

Why do AM & FM radio stations need to [periodically identify themselves and also provide public service announcements? That isn’t free speech – it is government mandated. the reason that the government can mandate such controls on speech is because the radio stations don’t own the frequencies they transmit on, they are licensed. The same applies to over-the-air TV. The first amendment is fine with the fairness doctrine – the airwaves are public property.

Chris X says:

Fairness doctrine

I think that it’s significant that the new class of ranting demagogues have only proliferated after the demise of the fairness doctrine. I have no objection to them expressing themselves but NOT with the total contempt for any opposition. The classic is O’Reilly using his broadcaster’s security dep’t (I didn’t say it was Fox, did I?) to threaten a caller who merely USED Olbermann’s name.

Limbush’s career was a quagmire of failure until he attained the protected environment of the post-fairness era to start the ball rolling.

So since many in broadcasting now plagiarize, lie and so on during their shows, shouldn’t they be FORCED to acknowledge this? Whether it’s a candidate or not, this type of lying can cause horrible effects, as when it was used in Hitler’s Reich to keep the masses ‘informed’. The gov’t knew it was ESSENTIAL to have this kind of thing going on constantly on-the-air.

If Rush and O’Reilly and so on are so knowledgable, why do they rarely if ever show up in a REAL debate? For example, Limbaugh vs, say, Chomsky? He’s just a home-schooled guy, and Rush has a degree, doesn’t he? So let’s see what this would reveal.

It’s unfair of ANYONE, liberal, conservative or green, to have this huge power of communication yet not be RESPONSIBLE. Isn’t that something we have essentially lost in the past few decades? Why we have TRILLIONS of dollars ‘lost’ by the Pentagon… just LOST. And the US has spent FIFTY TRILLION dollars it doesn’t have. Of course this is painted as OK by captive media unable to discuss the Iraq war in detail, or even 9/11 skeptics’ views… why is this?

Oh yes: regarding the deficit: Reagan was the hero who “proved that the deficit had no meaning.” This is simply appalling. Nobody I know can live that way, or if they do, they are called ‘homeless’ very quickly. Nations are completely subject to the laws of physics and even the rules of accounting: if you spend what you don’t have, it has to come from SOMEWHERE. Presently, the whole mode of ‘thinking’ is to shove this down the next generations’ throats. The problem is that it will work, since the aggregate of all the current White House policies will be the destruction of the US, the end of civilization, the end of most sea life, and nuclear oblivion. There won’t BE a real ‘next generation’ since the people now ‘in charge’ of our futures had NO personal experience with war or fighting ANYONE; they ALL are draft-evaders except for one, who is a deserter and went AWOL essentially for a majority of his military term. Yet he calls for OTHERS to serve not only their agreed stint, but many more… coward is a good word here… “bring it on” to OTHERS who fight FOR you.

I want a few things (not that I have much chance of seeing them, unfortunately): RATIONAL discussions with MODERATORS and SCORES kept so liars will be EXPOSED and publicly ridiculed. Then I want a few scientific studies: 9/11 forensics with subpoena power, global warming and environmental commissions studying man’s effect on the earth with TEETH to regulate OUR behavior based on the results. More pollution = LESS driving, LESS airplane trips to pollute the upper atmosphere, etc. AND a BINDING study of the Iraq war’s causes, goals, and results so far, with INSTANT reparations and rebuilding starting with the UN’s help IMMEDIATELY and penalties assessed including DEATH for lying to the American people about causes of a war, being elected with any knowledge of vote fraud involved, etc.

I want peace. It works better than war almost all the time. We always realize it later anyway, so let’s just end this war NOW. And STOP the ‘war of terror’ against the American public using the NSA to tap OUR PHONES illegally.

Then make the Constitution the Law of the Land and make it a crime to abridge, undercut, subvert… hey, that is ALREADY against the law. So why not START PROSECUTING those behind the USA-PATRIOT act, the Military Commissions act etc.

Sorry, it’s hard to not be so involved about the horror of what has happened to this country. It was a very fine place once.

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