In Praise of the Fairness Doctrine

I know I’m about a week late on this one, but on the 4th of July, the OC Regsiter ran an editorial saying there is “nothing fair about the Fairness Doctrine.” 

In 1987, deregulation of the broadcast industry effectively did away with the Fairness Doctrine which was this requirement that opposing viewpoints be carried in news, public affairs and talk programming. The current Congress recently voted to deny the FCC funding to re-impose the Fairness Doctrine.  The Register views the Fairness Doctrine as government regulation of free speech and this is a short sighted view.

Deregulation of the broadcast industry in 1987 signaled a rebirth of the AM dial as talk radio bloomed.  Most of these programs are conservative in nature.  Without the Fairess Doctrine, these conservative hosts were no longer required to air an opposing viewpoint (when they could do what Fox News does have have weak-spined liberals on to try and uhold a progressive point of view; think HANNITY and colmes…..).

The goal of the fairness doctrine really hs nothing to do with free speech and everyone to do with ensuring the public airwaves are being used in the public interest. 

Newspapers can have a liberal or conservative bias, as can magazines, or blog pages.  It’s print media and government doesn’t own the printing presses.  Likewise, Cable TV networks like Fox News could carry a right wing bias because cable TV signals are delivered on demand via wire.  Documentaries are films; if they are good, people pay to see them.  If not, they attract a small audience.

Radio and commercial TV networks need a license to operate over an assigned spectrum on the public airwaves.  The FCC is charged with making sure certain broadcast footprints don’t overlap and that stations operate in the public interest.  I was listening to Jack FM over the weekend; and at the top of the hour, a voice rambled off about five sets of call letters and cities so its hardly a station that emphasizes “local programming.”  Its hard for me, a former newscaster, to see how Jack FM operates in the public interest when its an automated entity.

I think the Ed Schultz program (tape-delayed on KTLK at 7-10PM) is about as close as one can get to a radio program that tries to represent opposing viewpoints.  The show doesn’t screen calls and he lets righties explain themselves, uninterrupted for what seems like eternity in radio (imagine John and Ken not interrupted a guest who’s viewpoint they don’t agree with?).  Schultz’s show s progressive but the only people he seems somewhat disrespectful to at times are conservative talk show hosts.  And that’s not any different than what Rush Limbaugh does.

So does this mean some left-leaning programs on radio and TV should air a conservative point of view.  Yes it does.  And the more information we as Americans can be exposed to and the more points of view we can learn from, the greater our opportunities to work together in a bi-partisan fashion to solve the serious problems our nation faces.

So of you want straight partisan media, its easy to find in plenty of forms not regulated by the government.  But when it comes to the public airwaves, the Fairness Doctrine should be returned to allow left and right points of view to be heard in the context of the same network.





  13 comments for “In Praise of the Fairness Doctrine

  1. July 10, 2007 at 11:32 am

    I have news for you Dan, the Fairness for liberals who can’t compete in the marketplace Doctrine is not coming back. You can dream all you want about it. Again if people wanted to listen to liberal radio a la Air America, radio stations would syndicate it and make windfall profits off of the advertising revenue from it. It’s called capitalism. You know that thing that makes our country run. Don’t be greedy. You already most of the MSM in your back pocket.

  2. Dan Chmielewski
    July 10, 2007 at 11:54 am

    Actually Allan, the Fariness Doctrine benefitted conservatives more than liberals during its heyday. The liberal MSM (which is as liberal as their conservative corporations allow) was compelled to include conservative points fo view in its coverage of news.

    For those with an attention span greater than a typical Rush Limbaugh segment, please buy and read Eric Alterman’s “What Liberal Media?” which documents how conservative the MSM really is. There are studies that showed conservatives made up the vast majority of guests on Sunday TV talk shows.

    But shouldn’t you be on your own blog writing more adult-themed fiction about lusty Democrats?

  3. Dan Chmielewski
    July 10, 2007 at 11:56 am

    The Stephanie Miller Show and Ed Schultz show are doing very well financially.

    Under new ownership, AirAmerica remains a solid and refreshing alternative to the drug-addicted (Limbaugh) and sex fiends (O’Reilly) and brothel-guests (Hannity) on during the day….

  4. July 10, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    I guess Allan missed the whole part about how this pertains to the public airwaves only, and not to cable and print.

  5. RHackett
    July 10, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    But shouldn’t you be on your own blog writing more adult-themed fiction about lusty Democrats?

    Heh heh. That’s pretty funny and appropriate.

  6. July 10, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Not knowing a huge amount about the fairness doctrine (I was 7-ish when it was killed), I have to side with Thom Hartmann on this. He says that it’s not so much about the content so much as consolidated ownership. He suggests enforcing the Sherman Antitrust Act across the board, not just limited to radio. Makes sense to me.

    He also had a good point that Progressive radio has gained a 10% national market share, which is a great success for the few short years it has been around.

    Thom went into a great amount of detail on this topic on I believe…Friday? I have the podcast mp3 sitting in my computer here, maybe I’ll try putting it up.

  7. Robin Marcario
    July 11, 2007 at 2:14 pm

    The enforcement of the Antitrust laws is the responsibility of the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice. The lack of enforcement in federal agencies coupled with fund shortages and personnel leaving in droves has weakened the ability to protect consumers from monopolies. We see a going number of mergers which are virtually monopolies. The trend toward offering retail and groceries in one big box store destroys small businesses and a competitive environment. We all suffer when fewer companies and people control more of the market.

  8. July 12, 2007 at 4:32 am

    “the more information we as Americans can be exposed to and the more points of view we can learn from, the greater our opportunities to work together in a bi-partisan fashion to solve the serious problems our nation faces.”

    Dan, I do some work with the NAB, and the problem with the Fairness Doctrine is that in practice it actually had what the FCC called a “chilling effect” on issue-based broadcast content. Tasked with providing not-easily-measurable “fairness” and facing the risks fines and penalties, broadcasters simply chose to avoid issue-based content, which resulted in fewer points of view going out across the airwaves. As you would imagine, the big losers in all of this was the listening public, particularly in an era when radio and a handful of broadcast television stations were the only non-print sources of news and information. For more information, check out our press release from yesterday on why the so-called Fairness Doctrine is simply bad policy. You can find it on our website at

  9. Dan Chmielewski
    July 12, 2007 at 7:17 am

    Thanks for he note, but I respectfully disagree that the Fairness Doctrine is bad policy. I am a former radio news director , and never found adding opposing points to view to be difficult to add to my stories. Those stations limiting multiple points of view, in my opinion, are violating the terms of their license agreements by not operating in the public interest.

  10. July 13, 2007 at 9:59 am

    As a conservative I would support the fairness doctrine if it were to cover all forms of media, not just the one form of media that conservatives seem to have a dominance in. Liberals can delude themselves all they want about how the mainstream media is unbiased but most Americans know otherwise. If the New York Times, ABC, NBC, CNN, etc. were also required to equal time to the opposition, this bill would have no support at all. But all the talk in Congress is about applying the Fairness Doctrine to just the radio. All intellectually honest people, of all parties, should be SHOCKED that their government would suggest such one-party censorship. This flies in the face of all of the intentions our Founding Fathers have for a free press.

  11. Dan Chmielewski
    July 13, 2007 at 10:15 am

    SoCalPundit — the Fairness Doctrine applies to radio and TV that use the public airwaves; th ebroadcast spectrum. Radio and TV stations must apply for a broadcast license and in turn, broadcast content in the public interest. They have to reapply to renew their license.

    CNN (and Faux News for that matter) are cable networks; they can be as one sided as they want to be (as Fox News certainly is). But there is no regulation of printing presses or the Internet, so have at it.

    The broadcast spectrum for radio and TV is a limited one. You also continue to have this assumption that the media has a liberal bias. I suggest Eric Alterman’s book, “What Liberal Media?” which chronicles and counts references appearances and references to Liberals and Conservatives over the past several years.

    ABC is owned by Disney. NBC is owned by GE. Fox (and now the Wall Street Journal) is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Clear Channel radio has a controlling stake in most conservative talk shows. The media is far more conservative than you think.

  12. July 15, 2007 at 10:14 am

    Dan, you’re out of your mind and you’re ignoring historical facts.

    The Conservative Movement really began in America in the 1930’s. If the Fairness Doctrine is so politically neutral, then answer this: why has political talk radio only blossomed in this country since 1987? Why was political talk radio almost non-existent during the 40+ years the Fairness Doctrine was being imposed on America?

    Furthermore, if Liberal talkers like Ed Schultz, Stephanie Miller, and AirAmerica are doing so well, why then do we need a government policy to enforce “fairness” in that medium? Aren’t they proof that the government doesn’t need to intervene?

  13. Dan Chmielewski
    July 16, 2007 at 7:52 am

    Political talk radio really took off when Radio listeners began abadoning the AM band for the FM band which is clearly better for listening to music. Yes, Ed Schultz and Stepanie Miller are doing well, but they are not in all the same markets as Rush and Hannity and are often on lower powered stations.

    The notion of fairness here which respect to the public airwaves means being able to present oppositive viewpoints. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity present a skewed view of opposing viewpoints that make their listeners think Liberals will eat your young given the chance.

    For our friend Nabsico, I think I would rather than no public discourse than a straight one sided one.

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