More Senators Pushing For 'Fairness' Through Media Restrictions

from the that-doesn't-seem-fair dept

Earlier this week, our post about Senator Feinstein’s interest in bringing back the “fairness doctrine” stirred up quite a bit of controversy. It appears that other Senators are continuing that push, with Senator Dick Durbin now saying flat out that “it’s time to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine.” Of course, this whole push seems to be based on a very, very confused understanding of the past. Durbin claims: “I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they’re in a better position to make a decision.” There are so many problems with this statement, it’s hard to know where to start. First of all, most stories have a lot more than two sides — and if you really think there are only two sides, then you’re probably missing an important part of the story. Second, it’s amazing that anyone would suggest that with the huge number of media options out there today compared to any time in the past, that there are somehow fewer ways to hear various opinions on any particular story. Putting restrictions on single media providers, forcing them to spew some particular political position is pointless and unconstitutional. At this point in time, we have more ability to get all sides of a story out to the public than at any time in our past. Forcing certain properties to put on opinions they don’t agree with doesn’t seem “fair.” It just seems like a dangerous infringement of the First Amendment.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “More Senators Pushing For 'Fairness' Through Media Restrictions”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Joshua says:

I can see it now...

Every time there is a hate crime being discussed they will give equal time to the racist who advocates doing them.

Every time there is a story on a terrorist attack they will give equal time to the nutcases who thought it was a great idea.

Every time there is a discussion about religion they will need to give equal time to the christian, atheist, jew, muslim, satanist, and pastafarian pundits.

Every time there is a story about a building collapsing they will give equal time to the guy yelling about gravity being only a theory and that it should not be taken as true.

pinakidion says:

In American politics, there are only two sides

The Republican side and the Democrat side.

Similar to what Mike said, why would presenting the prepared stories of the two major political parties provide the truth? The truth doesn’t come out in Congress.

It seems that only the General Accountability Office has any ability to be truthful, but who’s going to listen to them?

Corwin says:

Why this is really happening...

is the immigration reform Bill that just died in the senate. Don’t really care what side you are on, but the information that came out on the radio got a LOT of people upset and senators are not used to being talked to like that. So, shoot the messager. 😛

That is all this is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why this is really happening...

is the immigration reform Bill that just died in the senate. Don’t really care what side you are on, but the information that came out on the radio got a LOT of people upset and senators are not used to being talked to like that. So, shoot the messager. 😛

That is all this is.

Actually your right. The liberals control a majority of the TV news, but talk radio is a killer for them. They have tried over and over to get into the talk radio segment, but they just can’t drum up enough listeners to keep them a float. This is their attempt to force the existing stations to split their time and to give them face time.

Personally I don’t listen to the radio, but I sure as hell don’t want the government regulating whats said on political radio… Wave good by to individual opinion.

Beefcake says:

Radio Frequencies are Public

That’s what brought about the whole “Fairness Doctrine”. There are two key elements which might still make it useful today:

1. It was originally intended for broadcast, because the airwaves belong to the public. I do however, see a 1969 related case involving the Miami Herald Publishing Company, so somewhere it may have exceeded this original grasp. In that case, yes– there’s a problem.

2. It didn’t originally require “equal” time, just prevented broadcasters from using the public airwaves to broadcast a sole viewpoint or political ideal.

Others may have more specific on this admittedly limited scope of knowledge. Cable television, magazines, newspapers, etc shouldn’t be bound by it, but if you’re using the public airwaves to broadcast political messages, it probably does have a use still.

Jason says:

Re: Radio Frequencies are Public

Radio frequencies are not public, they are owned by the communications company that broadcasts on them. They choose to freely broadcast to improve ratings. Get your facts straight before you make an ass out of yourself. You are just mad that Air America could not make a go of it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t think that the doctrine should only apply to talk radio.

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re: Re: Radio Frequencies are Public

I think Jason is the one that made an ass out of himself.

Anything that is broadcast for free is considered “public”. That is why public television and radio are regulated as much as they are, to protect the public.

Just because a communication company “owns” the broadcast, does not mean they have free reign to do what they want.

What a silly argument.

Anonymous Coward says:

With all sincere respect, broadcast frequencies do not belong to private companies, they are the property of the US Government. They are licensed by the government to private companies, for nominal fees, provided the companies continue to meet certain “public service” commitments.

Unfortunately, over the years, the government has allowed these broadcast companies to act like they actually own the frequencies.

I’d like the government to start enforcing the existing laws regarding these licenses.

As far as the “fairness doctrine is concerned, it should be restricted to these publicly owned assets. Publicly licensed frequencies should be made to air all viewpoints, as part of their “public service” commitments.

There are plenty of other places for unrestricted “speech”, including print and the internet.

Gerri D. says:

Re: Public Airways

I can see why you call yourself “Anonymous Coward”. Public airways were licensed by the government in order not to have everyone wanting to use the same ones. Also,like everything else the government does,it was a way to collect revenue. If there was a market for the OTHER viewpoints, the stations would be eager to put them on. Air America is a failure because not enough people want to listen to what they have to say, NOT because they were not allowed to put it on the “Public Airways”

Media Teacher says:


All this would do is kill any kind of political debate on broadcast radio. The “conservative” talk shows would jump to satellite. The “liberal” ones don’t stay on the air long enough to matter, but they would get their own satellite network too.

The broadcast stations would just decide that it’s not worth it to broadcast anything political so you’d end up with even more insipid and worthless broadcast radio than we have now.

Our lawmakers should work towards actually doing something like…oh I don’t know.. maybe addressing immigration, the war, health care and lots of other issues rather than trying to war against what the broadcast market has clearly said that they’d rather hear on the radio.

doug (user link) says:

Political Entertainment...

I will use an example I heard on the radio yesterday. If every radio station was forced to play every other type of music, radio would tank in no time. We all know what we want to hear, what makes us feel good. I don’t turn to my rock station to hear sappy love songs, I turn to hear rock. If I want to listen to somebody talk about liberal talking points I will turn a liberal talk show, usually a liberal radio station and vice versa. Private corporations pay for the air that they use. they receive no public funding (unlike NPR, which has left of center leanings) and if they piss off enough people, they will lose money. And this isn’t about losing money, this is about keeping the people dispassionate about their political leanings. Senators now a days are getting more and more complacent and need to be knocked down from their high horse, they do after all work for us, and if by chance I feel I need to be more informed (which is often the case) I will inform myself and not rely on the government to help me.

Corwin says:


are for the public use, and licensed by the FCC. But why stop there? The same logical argument can be used to stifle the press (even though there is the First Amendment, like it seems to matter). Here is how, any newspaper that uses trucks that travel on public roads then could fall under “logic”. Nobody thinks that this would be right.

There was no such thing as radio or internet back when the Continental Congress was debating it…But I would think they would have added freedom of talk/radio/etc. It just seems like the original intent.

Norman619 (profile) says:

This in infuriating

Thes SOBs want to silence the american peopel. They have to know talk radio is market drivem which means the PEOPLE are the ones that choose what shows are onthe air not the radio stations or the commentators.

I’m getting ready to move to another country and at first I felt sad about it. It’s a move I am not doing because I want to. But as I see more and more of this shit going down I am realizing the country I group in is almost gone anyway.

John B says:

Fundamental misunderstanding

There are so many misunderstandings and falsities being stated like they are facts here, that I hardly know where to begin.

First misunderstanding: The airwaves do not belong to the broadcast corporations. They are owned by the Federal government and *leased* to private companies using an agreement that (supposedly) requires them to behave responsibly. This is why you see public service announcements on broadcast TV. The corporations that lease the airwaves are required to devote a certain amount of airtime to them. Corporations know this when they agree to lease the airwaves. The same would be true if the Fairness Doctrine were re-instated.

Second misunderstanding: The Fairness Doctrine never *required* any station to air both/all sides of a story. What it did do was prevent them from:
1) choosing to air only one side of a story, and then
2) refuse airtime to someone or some company/organization that wanted to present a different side of the story.

The Fairness Doctrine would require broadcast TV and radio companies to provide airtime to opposing views if it was requested.

And the highway analogy was fundamentally flawed. This is more like preventing a factory from polluting the air by spewing noxious vapors. The factory makes money at the expense of the public’s health. In the case of broadcast companies, they have an agenda, say to convince people that the Fairness Doctrine is a bad idea, and then proceed to present only one side of the story. This is polluting the truth and the political discussion process.

About the only valid point I have seen on here made in opposition to the Fairness Doctrine was that there are now LOTS of ways to get information. That is, there are lots of ways for people who have Internet access and a computer and who know how to and choose to spend the money to connect the two.

Like us, for instance. But this is an elitist attitude. There are a significant number of people who live in rural areas who do not have easy access to the Internet (it is long distance or expensive or slow, etc.) and/or cable TV, and people who do not like computers or who do not feel comfortable enough with computers to get their news that way, or who have vision or reading disabilities.

The American people have a right to have a say in how their public airwaves are used. And I think it is in the public’s interest to have a check on the power of multibillion multinational dollar corporations to dominate the airwaves with their slant on things. Don’t think that they would do that? Here’s an example:

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…

Gerri D. says:

Re: Fundamental misunderstanding

Why do you only mention the Fox network? Is it because they have a slight Right leaning policy? What about CBS? (Dan Rather’s story about George Bush’s military service using FALSE documents) or NBC? (The story about pickup truck gas tanks exploding that they admitted they MADE UP)These are only 2 examples out of many. Once again if you are conservative you are scrutinized to the hilt but if you are liberal you get a pass!

Sanguine Dream says:

Re: Re: Fundamental misunderstanding

Once again if you are conservative you are scrutinized to the hilt but if you are liberal you get a pass!

We have to get over this childish finger pointing nonsense. For every instance you mention about conservatives getting scrutinized and liberals getting a pass someone can find just as many examples of the exact opposite.

Often times people that whine about getting scrutinized all the time are just trying to win symapathy votes.

And as for “fairness” how about some protection for people like the ones mentioned in comment #19. It’s funny how politicians want a fair amount of face time but don’t care that reporters/journalists are getting sued for trying to tell the truth.

aiken says:

Funny how they’re never clear about how exactly this would work. In vague terms, it sounds sort of noble. But let’s talk about concrete examples. Would stations be required to show as much “pro Bush” news as “anti Bush” news? Who decides whether a particular piece is pro or anti? Would it cover international figures? Would stations be required to run, say, as many “pro Osama bin Laden” pieces as “anti Osama bin Laden” pieces?

How about cancer? Take a look at the coverage that gets. Pretty darned unfair, highly biased against, etc.

It’s a silly, childish idea that is wildly unconstitutional in any kind of concrete implementation. Still, our representatives do love to wave flags and argue for “fairness”, even if it’s entirely idiotic.

David Sharpe says:

Fairness Doctrine

This is another ridiculous idea by politicians that are out of touch with the American voter and reality! There are many outlets for different views already available for readers and listeners and forcing things like equal time for pieces like Limbaugh, Boortz, and others is so ill thought it seems like a joke … unfortunately it’s not.

I am basically fed up with the politicians in general over things just like this. Largely they have lost touch with their constituants and vote with their personal opinion, their wallet (monitary supporters), party politics, and pay very little attention to us, the people.

The political system we have can’t get a fair tax law to replace the acknowledged bad law we have, can’t get a good social security system placed, can’t get a good immigration law in place (just the proposed one that fortunately got killed). And, when a good law gets into the system, it gets draped with local pork to gather enough votes. Our founding fathers never intended this.

We ought to be focusing on what it will take to continue our great system … it’s in danger of collapsing of it’s own beauracratic weight. Things like term limits for Congress so they don’t forget the people, simple tax systems, modernized immigration and visitation laws in tune with the new post-9/11 world, and more important things. NOT some local road funding!!!

Congress, get on it or get off it.

Gerri D. says:


If more of the voters in this great country of ours would take the time to get informed before going to the polls the politicians would have to shape up or be voted out. People like Senator Ted Kennedy would not be able to be reelected year after year unless they actually did something FOR the people of this country. Talk radio has done a great deal in making people sit up and take notice of what is going on in Washington and the Senators and Congressmen (and Women)don’t like it one bit. So they want to revive the “Fairness” Doctrine. Wake up John Q. Public and vote these fossils OUT!!

BTR1701 (profile) says:


As the article points out, our esteemed senators seem to think there’s only two sides to any issue; two political philosophies at play in America. Will Libertarians, Socialists, Greens and all the rest get equal time under this doctrine also or will the liberals/Democrats also get to decide whose views are worthy enough to be granted “fairness”?

There are as many different political philosophies as there blades of grass in my front yard. Why don’t we just grind all of broadcast media to a halt in some misguided attempt to make it all “fair”.

Of course we all know that if the situation were reversed and liberal-leaning shows dominated the radio airwaves, neither Feinstein, Boxer, Clinton, nor any of the rest would give a tinker’s damn about “fairness”. They’d be happy as a pig in shit over the status quo and “fairness” could go hang for all they’d care.

Beefcake says:

The market has nothing to do with it. The Fairness Doctrine exists as protection FROM the market, not to assist it. The idea is that if a broadcaster is allowed to utilize a natural phenomena ( a radio frequency) to express a single popular viewpoint in perpetuity to only maximize it’s profits and ratings, no new ideas will ever be heard, thought stagnates, and the community leasing the broadcaster that frequency isn’t served. It isn’t even equal time, just “any time”. The public airwaves can be used for a very lopsided conversation, but it has to be a conversation. Somewhere, sometime, you have to allow different ideas in.

Outside the Fairness Doctrine, FCC licenses continue to require broadcasters to sacrifice some of their time in pursuit-of-market-share to things like emergency broadcasts and community service. Should we get rid of that requirement and to let the market rule as well? Lease one frequency per market to the emergency broadcast system and hope “the market” supports that broadcaster continually running test and hope that when there is an emergency, enough people are tuned into the test to get the information?

The clever part is, how do you think things like call-in talk-shows and local news shows were born in the first place? They were done to meet the FCC-mandated community service obligations. Then some bright marketing folks figured out that they could begin tailoring those items into further entertainment, and thus we get 18 minutes of “cute kitty stuck in a tree” soft news and people like your beloved Rush Limbaugh. But the community service requirements are met.

If the Fairness Doctrine is brought back, don’t worry. Hyper conservative talk-radio stations will just have liberals on so they can ridicule and shout them down(Fox News is on cable so shouldn’t be subject to it regardless, but demonstrates daily the market-enhancing value of this tactic beautifully), and your precious ditto-heads will flock to it in droves. Thus the market is satisfied, and the Fairness Doctrine is satisfied.

As a personal aside, I’m not even sure what everyone is so worried about. In the very unlikely event a conservative radio station had to actually devote a couple hours a day to an uncontested liberal answer to the remaining hours, why be afraid of competing ideas? If one side’s logic and ideals are so rock-solid, I hardly see how a little “but what about this” could hurt. (The same way vice versa of course– liberals should be confident enough in their ideas to not be afraid of a little dissent.)

Overcast says:

Funny how we can get into these long-winded discussions about all of this.

Let me sum it up:

Bill of Rights
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.

Do I really need to explain further?
Frankly, I’m getting quite tired of congress just ignoring this.

Don says:

Durbin claims: “I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they’re in a better position to make a decision.”

This is very, very true, but Durbin seems to not understand either history nor reality. I didn’t see anyone of these people bitching when the far left seemed to dominate the media (and I tend to have a more “liberal” than “conservative” viewpoint on most – but certainly not all – matters myself). Now that the extreme right seems to dominate conventional media these days, they want to get all up in arms about “fairness”.

Secondly, you can’t really “legislate” fairness. Both Micheal Moore and Ann Coulter are entitled to their opinions and beliefs, even though I personally think neither one of them seem to have a very strong grasp on reality or the world as it really exists. But both often raise important questions or issue that need to be dealt with, even if their solutions or ideas about them seem completely idiotic to most of us. Sometimes it’s important to get the “fringe” opinions from all sides to see where the real middle lies.

Lastly, there are already plenty of mediums for getting a very disparate collections of viewpoints and opinions IF people are willing to take a few minutes to look them up instead of just relying on the old talking mouthpieces. For example, I used to respect O’Reilley (even if I didn’t always agree with him) because he was not afraid to take his own “side” to task (although clearly that wasn’t as often as he did the other “side”) when he felt they were out of line. Nowadays, he’s become a man so wrapped up in his own ideology, that he can’t even allow the free expression of any viewpoint other than those that agree with his (highlighted by his tactic of increasing cutting off different viewpoints in mid thought). So I might read an article or book by him, but I refuse to watch his show anymore.

Don’t like O’Reilly? Go watch the Daily Show, or Stephen Colbert, or Keith Olderman. Don’t like Crooks & Liars? Go read Michelle Malkin, or listen to Rush.

Don’t like anything EITHER of the Republicans or Democrats have to say? Then go find some information on the Libertarian Party, or the Green Party, or the Constitution Party, or the Reform Party. There ARE more than two parties in this country, and neither one of them is willing to allow viewpoints outside of their own (although they can’t prevent the other, collectively they do manage to block anyone else’s). When I see a national debate involving a Libertarian, much less someone from the Constitution Party or Reform Party, then they can come talk to us about “fairness”. Otherwise, it’s just sour grapes that the “liberal” agenda isn’t the one getting the most coverage anymore.

Benefacio says:

Ted the Wonder Politician

Our Founding Fathers never intended this.

Well, that is so true. Our Founding Fathers never intended average citizens to be involved in the government which is why we have a representative republic rather than a democracy. It is DESIGNED to allow a few people to make decisions for the MAJORITY.

But take heart, Fellow Citizen! You too can form a Special Interest Group and flood the representative input lines with your side of the story. Just ask the FCC how it is done. I am sure they have a pamphlet or two.

Ted Kennedy gets re-elected every year because he has a fine and long standing reputation of bringing home the bacon. None of the Senators or Representatives have to worry about what they do to the country, only what can be done for the constituency that votes them in. After all, would not want some (alleged) hick farmers from South Carolina electing one of their own to represent (alleged) sophisticated New Yorkers nor would (alleged) God Fearing South Carolinians want someone from that (alleged) Modern Day Gomorrah that is (insert any other state here) representing them. Again, this is the design our Founding Fathers chose and if I recall my civics history reasonably accurately, for just those sorts of reasons.

The only way for Citizens to take back the Government is for Citizens to get IN the Government. Oh wait, they already are!

ryan says:

you are an idiot

if you think this is about more media outlets than ever, what planet do you live on? the argument is over AM radio waves of which there is a finite amout of “outlets” possible. it amazes me the righties are crying so much over this when NOone in liberal media wants the fairness doctrine because they dont want to have to talk to hannity’s guests but im sure rush never told you that. in fact i know the righties on radio continue to say the left wants this reinstated but if you actually listend to both sides of the dial like i do, you might have actual information and not just fox news notes to repeat.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...