The FCC announced this week that it is throwing out the Fairness Doctrine along with 80 other rules it considers "outdated and obsolete."
The Fairness Doctrine was originally put into effect in 1949 by the FCC to ensure that radio and, at the time, the few newly licensed TV stations presented opposing views of controversial issues of public importance in an honest, equitable, and balanced way. The Fairness Doctrine was probably a good idea in 1949 to make sure that those who were granted scarce licenses to operated VHF TV stations didn't use their TV stations for partisan political purposes.
In 1987, under direction from President Ronald Reagan's administration, the FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine. Because of the growth of cable television and the proliferation of both VHF and UHF TV stations, scarcity was no longer an issue in 1987. Also, led by a Reagan-endorsed and encouraged push for deregulation, lawmakers felt the Fairness Doctrine violated free speech rights, especially the rights of a small but growing number of conservative radio talk show hosts, including Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh began airing political commentary in 1984 in Sacramento, and in 1988 his syndicated program made its first appearance in New York, after the Fairness Doctrine was abolished.
The FCC decision not to enforce the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 (it remained on the books until this week), led directly to the huge growth spurt of conservative talk radio and reinforced the conservative view that government regulation – any regulation – was bad.
Furthermore, the conservative movement had been promulgating the myth that the mainstream media had a liberal bias. The liberal media myth was a right-wing Machiavellian maneuver so conservative talk radio and the conservative media could play the victim and have something to rant against, and the conservative bloviators began their unchecked trashing of liberals, Democrats, gay rights, abortion rights, the underprivileged, the uninsured, taxes, big government, and behind a very thin veil, immigrants and blacks.
After the conservative bloviators (by the way, they are mostly uninformed entertainers) got so numerous, Liberals and Democrats began whining about this trash talk and started calling for the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine. However, their leader, newly elected President Barack Obama, who was the prime target of the conservative, racist bloviators, clearly stated early in his presidency that he was against reinstating the Fairness Doctrine because he inherently knew as a lawyer and teacher of Constitutional law that it was bad policy and that the government could not legislate fairness or decency.
Therefore, Obama's FCC finally buried the Fairness Doctrine because scarcity was no longer an issue in an age of abundant content, opinion, and information outlets. Burying the Fairness Doctrine was the right decision even though it leaves unchecked racist, conservative trash talking of a beleaguered president.
But, considering the recent revelations of the complete corruption of the Rupert Murdoch empire and the fallout that is casting doubt (finally) on the credibility of the Murdoch-owned, conservative propaganda U.S. media such as the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, and, especially Fox News, perhaps burying the Fairness Doctrine was as much a strategic move as a free-speech, legal, regulatory move.
Whatever, the reason, though, the Fairness Doctrine is gone for good, and good riddance.
Until he retired in 2002, Charlie Warner was Vice President of AOL's Interactive Marketing division. Before joining AOL, he was the Goldenson Endowed Professor at the Missouri Journalism School where he taught media management and sales, and he created and ran the annual Management Seminar for News Executives. Charlie can be contacted at email@example.com.
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