November 06, 2008

Fairness Doctrine update

From former Philly Channel 10 newsguy Herb Denenberg, now at The Bulletin (all emphases mine):

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Whenever the title of legislation contains such high-sounding terms as fairness or reform, there's a good chance that is just a fraudulent label to disguise unfairness as fairness or failure to reform as reform. That is perfectly exemplified by the Fairness Doctrine, which ruled the airwaves from 1949 to 1987.

The doctrine, which now should be viewed as an unconstitutional limit on free speech, has had supporters over the years and is now one of the top priorities of the radicalized, extremist, far-left, undemocratic Democratic Party. It is a sad and sorry symbol of what we can expect from the most radical and extreme Democratic Party in history.

Even on Election Day, Sen. Charles Schumer,D-N.Y. , an influential Democratic senator, was pushing the Fairness Doctrine. Other Democratic senators pushing it include Majority Whip Dick Durbin., D-Ill., a close ally of President-elect Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein, D-Calif.

The Fairness Doctrine was formulated in 1949 in a regulation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under authority granted to it by the Communications Act and required broadcasters to "afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial matters of public importance." On its face, the doctrine sounds innocuous and fair, until subjected to the crucible of experience, to the law of unintended consequences, to the devil in the details and to the abuses to which it could and would be subjected.

This is the kind of regulations and laws you get from sophomores at Ivy League schools, from inexperienced and arrogant politicians such as Sen. Obama, and from proponents who are unable to temper theory with practice and superficial sounds with deep-rooted experience.

Under the rule, the FCC required broadcasters to air all sides of controversial issues. Sounds good, and as the Heritage Foundation has pointed out, "Fairness is, after all, a basic American value." But in practice, it had the opposite effect. Instead of airing both sides of controversial issues, broadcasters simply avoided controversial issues. Why so?

First, broadcasters weren't sure where the line would be drawn and didn't want the expense and other problems associated with interpreting often-ambiguous rulings and doing battle with bureaucrats and government litigators.

Second, politicians and others used the Fairness Doctrine to harass and intimidate broadcasters from covering certain issues. For example, Bill Ruder, Democratic campaign consultant and assistant secretary of commerce in the Kennedy Administration, admitted the Kennedy Administration used the doctrine to silence criticism: "Our massive strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass right-wing broadcasters and hope the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive."

The Nixon Administration extended the doctrine to new heights and one published report concluded "private activists directed by the Republican National Committee regularly filed Fairness Doctrine challenges against stations whose reporting angered the White House." So it's nice to see bipartisan abuse.

The nature of FCC enforcement of the doctrine also made these abuses more common and more likely. The FCC could not monitor all broadcasters, so there was selective monitoring and selective enforcement. The Heritage Foundation found, "This, of course, puts immense power into the hands of federal regulators." And that was promptly abused, as already indicated.

Third, the Fairness Doctrine made it impossible for talk radio to develop the kind of hugely successful programming that brings listeners and viewers valuable discussions of all issue with the give-and-take that is one of the great strengths of talk radio. Under the Fairness Doctrine, talk radio as it now exists would be considered too controversial and too problematic to be practical. You'd need an army of Philadelphia lawyers to strike the right balance on each issue and keep the regulators at bay. When the doctrine was abolished, talk radio started to boom. In 1990, there were only 400 stations with talk radio formats. That had grown to more than 1,400 by 2006.

Fourth, the doctrine could be used to silence critics on an industry-wide basis by one political party or another. Right now, the one segment of the media that gives conservatives as well as liberal sand Republicans as well as Democrats a fair shot, is talk radio. The best known voice on talk radio is Rush Limbaugh followed by other conservative voices such as Sean Hannity, Bill Bennett, Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved, Dennis Prager, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Savage and Mike Gallagher. The Republicans, headed by Rep. Nancy "San Francisco Values" Pelosi, with the support of Sen. Obama and the Democratic Party, wants to shut down talk radio as we know it by reinstituting the fairness doctrine.

If reinstituted, the stations airing conservatives would have to balance them with liberals. That would create all kinds of complications, and also all kinds of financial losses, as liberal talk show hosts do not draw as large an audience as conservatives.

For example, I think Sean Hannity has one of the best programs on radio and television, but I would consider it torture to have to list to 10 minutes of radio hosted by his liberal partner, Alan Colmes.

Cutting through all the rhetoric, the Fairness Doctrine would simply mean the end of talk radio as we know it, and the one segment of the media that is not all liberal and all Democratic all the time would cease to exist. Whatever the reason, liberals have tried to mount countervailing networks and broadcasts and have failed. They can't beat the conservatives in the marketplace of ideas, so they want to exterminate them in the legislative arena.

It should also be noted the media environment that was the foundation for the Fairness Doctrine no longer exists. At the time the doctrine was first promulgated, it could be argued that there was such a scarcity of broadcast spectrums that government regulation was necessary. That was the basis for the doctrine and for its constitutional validity. But since then there has been an explosion of broadcast outlets and other media alternatives.

Here are the statistics on that explosion from a Heritage Foundation Report: When the doctrine was first conceived there were 2,881 radio stations and 98 television stations. By 1960, there were 4,309 radio stations and 560 television stations. By 1989, there were 10,000 radio stations and close to 1,000 television stations. By like token, the number of radios in use jumped from 85.2 million in 1950 to 527.4 million in 1988. During the same period television sets in use went from 4 million to 175.5 million. And there has been growth since those time periods.

The growth of other media outlets now make it impossible to monopolize the airwaves. Since the initiation of the doctrine, we've also seen FM radio, UHF television, cable television, cable radio, satellite television, satellite radio and the Internet, which is capable of reaching broadcasters all around the world. The media has undergone an explosive expansion and will probably continue to experience dramatic growth in the number and kinds of outlets and the opportunities for all views to be presented. The scarcity argument is dead and so is the constitution underpinning of the Fairness Doctrine, which by the advance of technology has been rendered an improper restriction of free speech.

The FCC was right in 1987 when it rescinded the Fairness Doctrine, with an opinion that included this:

"We believe that the role of the electronic press in our society is the same as that of the printed press. Both are sources of information and viewpoint. Accordingly, the reasons for proscribing government intrusion into the editorial discretion of print journalists provide the same basis for proscribing such interference into the editorial discretion of broadcast journalists."

But this constitutional argument may soon be weakened by an Obama presidency. He is likely to appoint two or three new justices, tipping the balance of power in favor of those who believe in the constitution as a "living document" (a euphemism for judges doing anything they want and legislating their left-wing views from the bench) and who are willing to ignore the Founder's intent. This means we will have a Supreme Court that is likely to approve the flood of far-out liberal proposals that are almost certainly to come forth from a Democratic Party in control of Congress.

The Democratic Party will be pressing for the reinstitution of the Fairness Doctrine in the months ahead in order to silence their critics on talk radio. If this undemocratic proposal of the Democratic Party is to be defeated, it will require a grassroots uprising, with e-mails, letters and calls to Congressman and other elected officials, as well as letters to the editor and every other kind of communication called forth in defense of freedom of speech, in defense of the First Amendment and in criticism of the Democratic Party, which seems intent on destroying the framework of liberty and freedom that has made America great and that is our central national value.

Posted by Hube at November 6, 2008 04:31 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

There's actually starting to be alot of talk in conservative circles to "rebrand" the Orwellian "Fairness Doctrine" label with something closer to what it would actually do. I would hope they'd do the same with the innocuous-sounding "Card Check" legislation that would actually remove the secret ballot from union voting.

Posted by: Mark Engblom at November 6, 2008 08:15 PM

I got to your site because a favorite blogger of mine has listed you and he is taking a break. These are dangerous times we are entering, and I really feel that Obama, et al., are working hard to remake American Society into something sick and twisted. I just started blogging myself and I am ready to fight. If you have contact with GW, tell him to get back to work.

Posted by: ex-dissident at November 7, 2008 02:08 PM

Hmm, let's see now. How did those SAT questions run?

Estate Tax : Death Tax :: Fairness Doctrine : __________

a) Air America Bailout Plan
b) ThoughtCrime Eradication Act
c) Tell Rush Limbaugh to Shut Up!
d) Defense of Chris Matthews Act

Posted by: G Rex at November 7, 2008 02:12 PM

Great synopsis of the issue ! Thanks for the work on this. Definitely something to watch out for.

Posted by: Shirley at November 8, 2008 06:37 AM