SHOULD Barack Obama win the presidency and Democrats take full control of Congress, next year will see a real legislative attempt to bring back the Fairness Doctrine - and to diminish conservatives' influence on broadcast radio, the one medium they dominate.It's funny. I never really noticed how much I missed the disclaimer that my local television stations had to broadcast.
Yes, the Obama campaign said some months back that the candidate doesn't seek to re-impose this regulation, which, until Ronald Reagan's FCC phased it out in the 1980s, required TV and radio broadcasters to give balanced airtime to opposing viewpoints or face steep fines or even loss of license. But most Democrats - including party elders Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry and Al Gore - strongly support the idea of mandating "fairness."
See, when some moron, say, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, would wrangle a moment of air time from the local television outlet, a) he was forced to keep his comments factual and polite, and b) the station was forced to "provide free air time for responsible spokespeople of opposing views."
In 1980, sensing an opening, the broadcast media, owned and operated in many instances by stridently right wing corporatists with an agenda (think Richard Mellon Scaife) prevailed upon Ronald Reagan's FCC to do away with the Fairness Doctrine, thus eliminating reasoned discourse presented for the public enlightenment.
The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in 1949 by the FCC, but until 1969 was usually applied on a case-by-case basis.
In 1969, journalist Fred Cook was torn to shreds on the radio program of the Rev. Billy James Hargis. Attacked personally for writing a book about Barry Goldwater, Cook argued before the Supreme Court that the FCC doctrine implied the right to free and equal time to respond to the scandalous (and nearly slanderous) charges levelled.
At first blush, it may seem that this was not a matter for the Courts to decide, free enterprise, First Amendment and all, but the SCOTUS took note of the fact that the airwaves were a public trust overseen by the Congress and therefore were actually public domain. As a public trust, there was no reason the government couldn't require such a doctrine and upheld Cook's complaint.
(The other thing the Fairness Doctrine required was programming "in the public interest" which is why your rock or hip-hop station broadcasts those bizarre programs really early on Sunday morning, like herbal medicine shows or community affairs programming.)
When the Reagan administration effectively eviscerated the Fairness Doctrine, it created Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Monica Crowley, Michael Savage and any number of right wing knuckleheads whose only claim to fame is being potty-mouthed and willing to be paid for it.
It also created Stephanie Miller, Air America Radio, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann.
I apply the Fairness Doctrine to my columns, you see... ;-)
This deregulation of the broadcast market, along with the consolidation of power amongst five mammoth content distributors, created the hugely right wing media goliath that we have today.
It is no secret the agenda that General Electric, Disney, and the others have established: entertain at the expense of informing. Don't tell the truth, tell a masking of truth. Put lipstick on a pig and trot it out as a beauty queen. Tout "American Idol" rather than America's failures in Iraq.
In short, cry havoc and unleash the dogs of war on the people of the United States. Beat us into submission until we no longer care, and never EVER let a responsible spokesperson with an opposing point of view have any air time whatsoever, except in a context where he can be edited and mocked into submission.
Mr. Anderson's article, as panicked as it is (after all, he works for Rupert Murdoch, who made his life's fortune on being a strident partisan and suppressing rational discussion), points out the enormous success lying on the radio has had.
It's about time it stopped. He cites the First Amendment, but as anyone with a speck of understanding can see, the First Amendment is under more savage attacks without the Fairness Doctrine than with.
What Anderson is more concerned with (and his article amply demonstrates) is comfort. The comfort of not having one's views challenged substantively. The comfort of being truly elitist because one is truly ignorant. The comfort of being, in short, an idiot.
So "amen" to the Fairness Doctrine, and long may she oversee the dialogue of this great nation.