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February 19, 2009

The Real Fairness Doctrine


The growing incidence of calls for government meddling and control of speech is staggering.
  • Last week former President Clinton opined on a radio show that government must do something to balance opinions in broadcasting;
  • Acting Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Copps complained a few years ago that he couldn’t find any “quality” on television;
  • Liberal Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has asserted that media reform needs to now be pushed with a “progressive” agenda;
  • And then there’s the reported meetings between the FCC and the chairman of its oversight committee, the liberal Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), to discuss ways to enact so-called “Fairness Doctrine” polices.

The concern underlying their arguments? Something called “spectrum scarcity.”

Spectrum scarcity exists when only a few radio or television channels can exist simultaneously, which effectively limits the public’s access to information. It was a problem back in the 1960s. And so the government developed the “Fairness Doctrine,” which forced “viewpoint neutrality” on broadcasters.

However, due to a growing swell information outlets, the Fairness Doctrine was repealed nearly a quarter century ago. Now some argue it should be revived.

The complaints are particularly ironic given that the last 15 years has been an era of unprecedented video and audio content choices. Media today are ably demonstrating a creative, functioning market, frenetic with new options and new choices.

Content companies attempt to anticipate what consumers want and respond quickly to consumer choice. And those with less populist tastes have many more targeted channels at their disposal, subsidized for their convenience thanks to the freedom to bundle channels into packages. And that is before consideration of the Internet.

Just last month almost all major brands debuted televisions that can offer video from the Internet. What would the FCC and the House Energy and Commerce Committee seek to do—apply restricted free speech provisions to the Internet as well?

To have so many political leaders so out of touch with the facts, but still pushing a political agenda, is inexcusable.

Thankfully, on this issue President Obama has come down on the side of sanity, reality and the First Amendment by making it clear that he does not believe the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated. Not exactly a veto threat, or a statement that he would instruct his FCC to not reinstate the Doctrine by one means or another, but at least it is a solid beginning.

Allowing free speech, now that’s a fair doctrine.


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