Time To Bring Back The Fairness Doctrine
My first job as a dj was at WUSB in Stony Brook, New York, my college station. That's when I learned about the Fairness Doctrine, which the FCC had put in place in 1949. Being pretty opinionated, I didn't always love it but I did realize it was... well, fair. I was also booking the speakers program at the university at the time and when I hired the Julian Bond (D-GA) my faculty advisor, Mrs. Couey, insisted I present a balanced program as though the Fairness Doctrine also governed the Speakers Bureau. Bond was one of 8 African Americans elected to the previously all white Georgia House of Representatives after the passage of the Voting Rights Act (1965). The unrepentant racists who ran Georgia's House refused to seat him (ostensibly because he opposed the War in Vietnam) but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 (Bond v Floyd) that hey were denying him his freedom of speech and had to seat him. I asked her if she wanted me to hire someone from the KKK. "Now, Howie..." she said. I hired Strom Thurmond to speak on the same night. I've written about what went down and here's my 2006 recitation of the story. Fair and balanced.
But the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, doesn't govern communications in a college auditorium, only over the publicly-owned airwaves. And the idea is that those airwaves, although they are being used by private companies to make millions and millions of dollars, should also be used for the public good. The fairness doctrine was deemed part of the public good, probably because the kinds of companies that gained control of the radio industry were owned by wealthy conservatives who would-- if not forced to take the public good into consideration-- fill the airwaves with corporate whores and fascists pushing the reactionary line-- people like Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Coulter, Savage, O'Reilly... the whole panoply of American neo-facsism. And look at what happened when 25 years ago this month, the FCC did end the Fairness Doctrine. The radio waves because a virtual brainwashing machine for deranged right-wing ideology.
Progressives-- without the backing on conservative Democrats-- have tried to bring the Fairness Doctrine back. In 2005 Louise Slaughter (D-NY) got the ball rolling with the Fairness and Accountability in Broadcasting Act which failed to gain enough support to get out of committee, Since then Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) have both tried and even President Bill Clinton indicated he might support the idea: “Well, you either ought to have the Fairness Doctrine or we ought to have more balance on the other side, because essentially there’s always been a lot of big money to support the right wing talk shows.”
Demonstrating a fatal character flaw, Obama, is always looking for common ground with the extreme right no matter how they undermine and denigrate him. I suspect it was to try to please that that he said he opposes reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. The has put a kind of a crimp in the efforts of progressives who would like to work on the issue. But it's certainly encouraged right-wingers:
"Radio Independence Day" will be July 4, if activist Brent Bozell, Rep. Mike Pence (a former talkshow host), Rep. Greg Walden (a former group owner), talk host Laura Ingraham and tax activist Grover Norquist get their way. Their idea of "independence" is getting the House to hold an up or down vote on the Broadcast Freedom Act-– which would prohibit the FCC from reviving the long-dormant Fairness Doctrine. They and a bunch of talkshow hosts fear it would squelch the voices of conservatives. There’s a discharge petition to get the BFA out of committee and onto the House floor, but it’s still 14 votes short. Bozell, president of the Media Research Center and publisher of NewsBusters, "demands" that members of Congress sign up for a vote on free speech by July 4. Bozell says "the era of the Fairness Doctrine represented dark days for this first and fundamental right."
An aside-- Walden, who represents the right-leaning eastern half of Oregon, is currently campaigning to be the head of the NRCC, the GOP's version of the DCCC. He thinks he should be part of the Republican leadership team.