Bye, Bye Fairness Doctrine — Good Riddance

FCCThe FCC announced last week that it is throwing out the Fairness Doctrine along with 80 other rules it considers “outdated and obsolete.”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 stations 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 last 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 strategy implemented so that conservative talk radio and the conservative media could play the victim and have something to rant against. 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 radio and cable 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 most 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 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 radio talk show trash talking of a beleaguered president.

But, considering the recent revelations of the corruption of the Rupert Murdoch empire and the fallout that is casting doubt (finally) on the credibility of the Murdoch-owned, conservative propaganda machine, including the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, and, especially Fox News, perhaps burying the Fairness Doctrine was as much a strategic maneuver by the Obama administration as a free-speech, legal, regulatory move.

By allowing the conservative propaganda machine to continue to run wild and unbalanced by the Fairness Doctrine, the American public and voters have the opportunity to learn how ridiculous, out-of-touch, simplistic, nasty, theocratic, and racist the conservative positions are, thus making an indecisive and too-conciliatory president look good by comparison.

Whatever, the reason, though, the Fairness Doctrine is gone for good, and good riddance.

Author:

Charles Warner

Charles Warner teaches in the Media Management Program at The New School and NYU’s Stern School of Business, and is the Goldenson Chair Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Until he retired in 2002, he was Vice President of AOL’s Interactive Marketing division. Charlie’s book Media Selling, 4th Edition is an update of Broadcast and Cable Selling and is the most widely used sales textbook in the field. He has also written a companion book to Media Selling titled Media Sales Management that is available free on www.mediaselling.us.