Feb 9, 2009
If not the Fairness Doctrine then how about some fairness?
If you needed anymore proof of how bankrupt the Republican Party is, you just need to witness the fight over the Fairness Doctrine.
The explosion in right wing talk radio coincided with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 under Ronald Regan by the Federal Communications Commission. The Fairness Doctrine was formally adopted as an FCC rule in 1949 requiring broadcasters to devote some of their airtime on the public airwaves to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows or editorials, according to Steve Rendall of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).
There has been some talk of bringing the Fairness Doctrine back to correct the imbalance that has 10 hours of conservative talk for every one hour of liberal talk on the air. Actually, the Fairness Doctrine was never formally repealed. The FCC did announce in 1987 that it would no longer enforce certain regulations under the umbrella of the Fairness Doctrine, and a 1989 a circuit court upheld the FCC decision. The Supreme Court, however, has never overruled the cases that authorized the FCC’s enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine.
The talk of bring back the Fairness Doctrine or actually enforcing it has led right-wingers to go berserk, and they have latched onto the false talking point that it’s a violation of free speech, unconstitutional and it contradicts the foundational principle of free speech and First Amendment rights. There is, of course, no explanation of how the Fairness Doctrine would muzzle any rightwing hatemongers.
How about instead of the Fairness Doctrine how about just some basic fairness? When liberal talk radio, which has been around less than a decade, is allowed to compete head-to-head with rightwing talk it does as well or better.
But how is it fair that the five companies that own all of the radio stations in the country have 600 stations with rightwing programming and only 60 with liberal talk? For an example of the unfairness, consider WJR radio. It has 50,000 watts that can blast its signal all over the state. Hell, I picked up Ernie Harwell doing a Tigers game late one night on the Maryland Shore while driving from Virginia to New York.
WJR is located in a blue state in one of the most liberal cities in that blue state, but there is not one progressive voice on that station. Now, they point to Mitch Albom, but I have never heard Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hanity talk about the new Lions coach. How is it fair that right-wingers can compete on a 50,000 watt powerhouse, but you can’t receive the signal from the liberal talk radio on WDTW 1310 in Detroit at all at night and a weak signal during the day?
Apparently, right-wingers are so concerned that they will actually have to compete fairly that rightwing Congressman Mike Pence and Senator Jim DeMint introduced something called the “Broadcaster Freedom Act” that would prevent the FCC from repromulgating the Fairness Doctrine. It’s kind of like Bush’s Healthy Forest Act or Clean Air Act that does the opposite of what its name implies.
The rightwing echo chamber has swung into full gear, and the rightwing, so-called “American Center for Law and Justice” has a form letter you can copy and send to your federal representative.
Although it was written almost four years ago to the day, the article by Steve Rendall is still relevant on why we need the Fairness Doctrine or some basic fairness.
Instead of being in violation of free speech and being unconstitutional, “citizen groups used the Fairness Doctrine as a tool to expand speech and debate. For instance, it prevented stations from allowing only one side to be heard on ballot measures. Over the years, it had been supported by grassroots groups across the political spectrum, including the ACLU, National Rifle Association and the right-wing Accuracy In Media.”
“The necessity for the Fairness Doctrine, according to proponents, arises from the fact that there are many fewer broadcast licenses than people who would like to have them. Unlike publishing, where the tools of the trade are in more or less endless supply, broadcasting licenses are limited by the finite number of available frequencies. Thus, as trustees of a scarce public resource, licensees accept certain public interest obligations in exchange for the exclusive use of limited public airwaves. One such obligation was the Fairness Doctrine.”
What thing that has led to the glut of rightwing radio in places where it makes absolutely no sense, like WJR, is the consolidation of radio stations. There is very little local radio, and the only way you can tell you are listening to a station in Michigan and one in California is by the commercials.
We just saw what consolidation did to Detroit sports station WDFN when it fired the local hosts in favor of syndicated programs.
That’s why we need more Low Power FM radio stations. These stations are authorized for noncommercial educational broadcasting only, and they operate with an effective radiated power of 100 watts with a range of about 3.5 miles.
The two biggest problems in radio are consolidation and an uneven playing field. This needs to be corrected, and I don’t care how it’s accomplished.