PJ Media

Battle Lines Being Drawn in Fight Over Fairness Doctrine

In my youth I worked for radio stations.

I am just old enough, and the stations were just “economically challenged” enough, to have used old radio dial control boards and meters. Back then, those of us who held FCC licenses would dutifully check readings to ensure our stations did not emit a signal that would interfere with another station’s broadcast signal miles away.

This was important for commerce. Stations were selling ad time and federal regulations properly required we stay within our limits.

Now some activists are trying to revive another antiquated and unnecessary system: a so-called “Fairness Doctrine” that has nothing to do with fairness or ensuring the free flow of commerce.

A senior advisor to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told one magazine last year, “Conservative radio is a huge threat and political advantage for Republicans and we have had to find a way to limit it.” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York stated on a live cable news show on Election Day his support for a new Fairness Doctrine so, as he said, we could truly be “fair and balanced” under his definition. Obama’s political confidant, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, said, “It’s time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine.”

And just this week, Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), a prominent member of the House Subcommittee that may take up the Fairness Doctrine next year, said that she wanted to bring it back. “I still believe in it,” Eshoo told the Daily Post in Palo Alto.

Why do they say it’s needed? They claim the federal government must ensure local stations fully cover local news and topics of the day. However, those promoting the new Fairness Doctrine come from the politically correct left, which is incensed that conservative-minded talk show hosts have large ratings, large audiences, and big paychecks.

Liberal activists want the federal government to determine if a station is balanced and providing politically correct programming in our neighborhoods. Just imagine, if you will, a federal bureaucrat hops on a plane and travels from Washington to a local rural radio station. That bureaucrat then walks in to tell a station manager what to put on the air.

Yes, Virginia, they would be coming from the government and they would only be there to help. Or so the activists promoting the Fairness Doctrine want you to believe.

The original doctrine was in place at a time when radio was king. Radio stations were a main point of information. Now we receive news and information via our PDA, Blackberry, laptops, and desktops by visiting blogs, texting, and reading news sites. Digital cable boxes sit in our homes. We listen to music on digital recorders and we even get our news from satellite radio.

Radio stations have become merely one channel we can turn to for entertainment or news, not the only channel in town. Some would say this alone negates the need for a so-called Fairness Doctrine.

Others could point to history and note our nation’s early newspapers were neither fair nor balanced.

Just like in those days, people today can choose not to purchase a paper, watch a television show, read a blog, or even tune to a radio station in which they are not interested. Our citizens actually vote with their feet and vote with their ears when they choose from which medium they wish to gather information.

However, those promoting the Fairness Doctrine want us to believe that people should not have the right to make choices in determining what is fair on their dial.

Those who wrongfully supported the Fairness Doctrine back in the 1940s claimed the regulation would ensure local station owners’ opinions could not dominate local policy discussions. They thought it would encourage lively debate. However, it did just the opposite.

When it was in place, political opponents used the Fairness Doctrine as a tool to harass stations and encourage them to take shows they did not like off the air. They used it to intimidate stations into avoiding topics. This seems to be exactly the type of “fairness” the current proponents are interested in.

Steve Rendall, who is affiliated with the left leaning Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting organization (FAIR), makes the case for the need of the Fairness Doctrine by citing the airing by Sinclair Broadcast Group’s of what was perceived as a critical documentary of John Kerry.

Mr. Rendall does not cite the liberal media bias noted in studies from the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University and UCLA. Nor does he cite the ongoing multi-year reports from Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that demonstrate journalists are much more liberal than conservative. He only cites perceived conservative bias.

But his own research shows that Sinclair Broadcast Group dialed back their plans to air the documentary in 2004 because of a negative reaction on their stock value. Rendall’s own research seems to indicate that the FCC’s decision in 1987 was correct in removing the Fairness Doctrine because voters and citizens can discern what is important to them and vote with their ears, their eyes, and now their keyboards.

Taken together, many believe, the Fairness Doctrine should end up where those old dial radio station control boards reside — on the scrap heap of history.