The Fairness Doctrine: a good idea?

It seems that some Democrats in the current Senate are using their newfound majority to suggest enacting the Fairness Doctrine into law.

Now, I’ve read some about it, but I still don’t feel like I know enough about it. Is it a good idea?

If you feel as if your side isn’t getting enough airplay, then yes, it seems like a good idea.

Decades ago, when there were only two or three radio outlets, yes, it was a good idea.

But with the huge proliferation of newspapers, cable, internet, and broadcast outlets, artificially imposing what some bureaucrat believes is “equal airtime” to the other side would instead have a chilling effect on the marketplace of ideas. It died during the Reagan era and needs to stay dead, forever.

There are many easy ways to get all sides of an issue. Let the private marketplace handle it. If you don’t like what Rush has to opine on a subject, go to Air America or NPR and get another opinion. But don’t dictate how he opines.

I think it sounds like a decent idea, but I don’t think it would do well in practice. It seems like it would be too hard to enforce nowadays, especially with the rise of the internet.

On preview… what ivylass said.

Giving government the authority to police the political content of the airwaves is both a bad idea in theory as well as in practice. On the theoretical side, people should be free to state their political views without the concern that they will run afoul of governmental displeasure. On the practical side, when the “Fairness” doctrine was in place, it was used to silence political debate and Presidents used it to intimidate those who criticized them. So of course politicians are going to be promoting it, just as they promote “campaign finance reform.” Both these things limit the criticism of elected officials.

Re-enact – sort of. The Fairness Doctrine was never a matter of statute, but it was part of FCC rules from 1967 through 1985.

Sure. Great idea. Can we introduce Intelligent Design into every biology class in the country, too? Arrange field trips to see the dino- er, Jesus Horses living alongside humans? Discuss the merits of bombing abortion clinics in a balanced manner?

Most of the media is owned by a few major companies, and you can’t put out anything on their media anything that offends them. And unlike some, I see no difference between government and corporate censorship. There isn’t much of a marketplace of ideas off the Internet in America anymore; just the Rich White Corporate Christian Male propaganda machine; look at the chorus of approval leading up to the Iraq War, complete with people who disapproved being fired.

The ‘free market’ just means ‘the rich own everything’, in this case. The Fairness Doctrine may or may not be a solution to this, but letting the rich and powerful buy the media as their propaganda machine isn’t the way to a “marketplace of ideas”, if that’s what you really want. Forbidding one company to own more than a small number of outlets might be better, and allow some actual competition.

Aside from a giant rolleyes, you can get some pretty radical anti-corporate people on the air on tv and radio… if you can get the listerners. Corporations don’t actually care what you say so long as you can make money saying it. In any event, while there has been a media shakeout, the idea that a few companies own the airwaves is certainly untrue.

FTR, I’m not an American. But for me, the “Fairness Doctrine” smacks of intellectual cowardice. If your ideas are good, it will eventually prevail. There is no need for equal air time. There are ideas that, because of its utter inanity, are rightfully not given equal air time because of market forces.

There are also messages that don’t get air time because the corporations that own the stations find them objectionable or threatening to their interests, which is not quite the same thing as “market forces.”

Errmmm . . . yes, it is true. (pdf)

See also here.

So who cares. Get a blog, or a podcast, or run some sheets off on a mimeograph machine. Just don’t bug me about it.

Do I knock on the door of the Chicago Reader and demand column inches? Not hardly.

So what you’re saying is that those who object to the Fairness Doctrine have plenty of alternative media to get their word out.

Excellent! I agree with you 100%. Let those media that are owned in common by we, the people (broadcast TV and radio), be governed by the Fairness Doctrine, and those media that aren’t (everything else), not.

At any rate, the reinstitution of the Fairness Doctrine should really only be a temporary measure, a Band-Aid that will be rendered irrelevant in less than a generation. Where we should be headed is a fusion of media into a single neutral Net where all packets are treated equally, where everyone is free to make available whatever content they wish, and everyone is free to choose to read/listen to/view whatever they wish.

Well, first you’ll have to find some way to render irrelevant laws against particular kinds of content (e.g. child porn). That, I think, is a much more daunting problem than any technical or political issues.

This sounds great. In theory. In practice, as we have seen, it leads to a complete avoidance of political shows in general, as networks and radio stations do not want to deal with the regulatory scheme involved.

TV used to be a wasteland when it came to political debate - now there are Sunday shows on all of the major broadcast and cable news networks that debate subjects of the day from multiple points of view. In an environment where equal time was rigorously enforced, these freewheeling conversations could not occur.

I think what we really ought to look at is barriers to broadcast ownership, and investigate ways to make things like neighborhood, low power radio and public-access TV much more viable.

Otherwise, let the station owners broadcast what they wish, and the listeners and viewers decide what they want.

So set up a Web site. Publish a book. This “the corporations own all the media” complaint is becoming less and less relevant by the day.

In any event, the problem with such an idea isn’t the principle, it’s the application. Who decides what’s fair? Whose views get airtime and whose don’t?

RTFirefly suggests that media “owned by the people,” like “broadcast TV,” be subjected to the Fairness Doctrine. But most people don’t watch broadcast TV - they watch cable or satellite, which isn’t being broadcast on the public’s airwaves. So should cable, which isn’t at all a public good, be regulated? What about podcasts and Internet TV? And who gets airplay? Just the Republicans and the Democrats? I assure you that’s how it will end up.

Wanna bet?

Cox Communications is one of the larger radio conglomerates. They are decidedly on the left side of the sheets, but they broadcast Neal Boortz, Sean Hannity, etc.

They’re in the business to make money. Get a vibrant, bombastic liberal to bring in the listeners and the advertisers, and they would put them on the air in a second.

Update: Murdoch’s News Corp is in negotiations to acquire Dow Jones, which would make it the owner of the Wall Street Journal. The deal might or might not have gone through already, depending on who you listen to.

Is that what the fairness doctrine does - “dictate how he opines?” I never heard it described that way before.