Last week the Federal Communications Commission formally ended 83 different regulations, including the controversial Fairness Doctrine. The commission voted to end the rule in 1987, but it has never been formally taken off the books.
The Fairness Doctrine laid two requirements on broadcasters: they had to devote airtime to controversial matters of public importance, and had to provide time for opposing points of view.
Although the Fairness Doctrine required that broadcasters provide coverage for all sides of a controversial issue, it never really defined what was controversial, nor what was “adequate” coverage. As a result, some broadcasters avoided controversy all together, which completely obviated the purpose of the doctrine in the first place.
In repealing the doctrine the Commission gave tacit approval to what is known as “market balance”: the idea that all points of view are, in fact, represented in the marketplace, although not necessarily on individual stations.
What’s been particularly interesting about the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine is how all parts of the political spectrum are arguing both for and against the commission’s actions.
Let’s see how this is working.
Some conservatives are saying they are under-represented in broadcast media, and thus need the Fairness Doctrine to insure their particular viewpoints are aired. But guess what: I’m seeing the same comments being made in liberal media. Some liberals say they are under-represented in the media, and that the doctrine is needed to protect their ideas.
On the other hand, some liberal and conservative elements are saying the Doctrine was an unconstitutional intrusion of the government into private industry. They also say the doctrine violated the First Amendment by telling broadcasters what they could and could not put on the air.
So I guess in repealing the Fairness Doctrine the Commission is doing just what the doctrine intended: providing a very boisterous debate on an issue of public importance.