I am not often caught going after the left, guns blazing, but as someone with some experience as a radio host, I have to voice opposition to possibly the biggest idiocy in radio broadcasting: the Fairness Doctrine. Never heard of it? Let’s define this bit of garbage, first.
This is an ancient law that was in effect from the late 40s until well into the 80s, the goal of which was to ensure that the airwaves were fair and balanced. Though the law didn’t require radio hosts to offer both sides of the political spectrum within a single program, it required stations to ‘fairly’ divide their programming schedules to address both the leftist and right-wing views. Possibly the smartest thing Ronald Reagan ever did was get rid of this garbage.
Support from the left
Unfortunately, there are a number of folks on the left who have pushed to have this deceased doctrine brought back to life. One-time presidential candidate John Kerry supports passing this legislation; Dennis Kucinich would also like to see the Fairness Doctrine brought back to life; even California Dems Diane Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi are strong supporters of this load of bullshit.
The theory is that there are a limited number of airwaves, but an infinite amount of people who would like their voice expressed on those airwaves – thus, we must regulate radio stations to ensure that they express both sides of the fence equally. There are a few reasons this is bullshit – in particular in today’s multimedia world.
Why This is B.S.
First off, it’s terrifying to me for the government to control political expression. It seems counter to the political dogma of the left, who, using the American Civil Liberties Union, fight so hard to protect people’s right to freedom of expression. Why should the government be able to tell the owners of a radio station (or stations) what their programming schedule must look like? I’m not exactly a conservative in favor of complete free market, but I certainly don’t like the regulation of what is said in the media.
I bet these guys support the Fairness Doctrine.
Besides, this kind of regulation is based on a bullshit concept to begin with: complete objectivity in media. Students of writing and journalism used to learn all about hiding their bias and trying to objectively present both sides of an argument, without favoring one or the other. Unfortunately, that never really worked. It just leads to media outlets covering their bias up while using clever, sometimes subconscious, rhetorical tactics to favor one side over the other. It probably makes a little more sense to expose one’s bias as a media outlet; just be up front, and let people know which side of the political fence an agency leans toward.
Second, the Fairness Doctrine in its original incarnation was a tool for leftist politicians to attack their adversaries. Bill Ruder, Kennedy’s Secretary of Commerce, has openly said that the political strategy of the Dems in the 60s was to use the Fairness Doctrine to attack right-wing radio hosts in the hope that the attacks would cost the right-wingers so much they would decide the show was too expensive to continue airing.
Now, I’m not exactly a big conservative, but I don’t like to see anyone attacked for expressing their political views. This doctrine was used to force small radio stations to drop right-wing programming when station owners realized they would have to give free time to liberals to balance the programming. That is the most under-handed, sly and terrifying form of political censorship.
Most importantly, though, why is this nonsense about bringing back the Fairness Doctrine absolutely idiotic? Because it serves no purpose today. We live in a multimedia world, and the idea that radio is the place most people develop their political opinions is simply not true anymore. While it is true that radio programs are unquestionably right-biased, liberals now have outlets they did not have under the original Fairness Doctrine. This very blog is a good example of why the Fairness Doctrine is no longer necessary – if, in fact, it was ever necessary in the first place. Television is now filled with a host of liberal-biased shows to counter the conservative voices, and it’s now easier than ever to self-publish political ‘zines to get the liberal word out on paper.
Even traditional radio is on the verge of dying, giving way to satellite radio and Internet broadcasts, which are fairly easy to set up for those wishing to get their liberal voice heard.
We should all let this nonsense serve as a warning: there are no politicians not worth watching. Left or right, they will still spread the manure to get re-elected – or to silence Rush Limbaugh, apparently. This is just a dirty tactic to silence the free expression of opposing ideas, and I think conservative and liberal alike can see that this is dirty politickin’ in its purest form.
So, in closing, way to go, Pelosi & Co. Orwell would be proud. Or Hitler. Or Stalin…