The Fairness Doctrine

What was the "fairness doctrine"?

It was an old FCC rule that required 'equal time' for the presentation of opposing political viewpoints on broadcast media. It was based in part on the "scarcity rationale" which suggested that, since the public airwaves were a limited resource, the government had the power to ensure that the resource was shared fairly by differing view points.

Reagan abolished the fairness doctrine in 1987. At least one reason for doing so, with which I agree, is that the scarcity rationale no longer applies. In other words, the ability to make one's voice heard is no longer a scarce resource; witness, for example, what you are reading right now.

Why do we care?

Because the "liberal" left, frustrated by their talk-radio venture's failure, are pressing to reinstate the fairness doctrine legislatively. Congressman Maurice Hinchey, D-NY, is sponsoring the "Media Ownership Reform Act." According to Hinchey, the act would "explicitly require broadcast licensees to provide a reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance." At least one left-wing blogger says these "measures are necessary and sensible."

I'm not sure how we define "liberal" anymore.

So now we're going to shut down Rush Limbaugh unless the federal government can force a radio station to play Al Franken? Would Jefferson have supported this? Would JFK?

Aside from any notions of principle, there is a highly practical reason why Hinchey's bill is no panacea. In our highly politicized, bitter, and polarized political culture, can you imagine the litigation his bill will engender? Who would be safe? Not CBS. Not NBC. Not NPR. Not talk radio.

Let's all go read the First Amendment. I suggest that we try to advance the discussion rather than silence the opposition. You know, the marketplace of ideas and all that. Anyone want equal time to defend the other point of view?

No comments: