Sunday, December 07, 2008

Reviving the Fairness Doctrine

Alleged liberal efforts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine continue to get play on talk radio. The Media Research Center has launched a campaign against it, and now George Will, of all people, weighs in.

All very interesting stuff, except for the fact that no serious effort to revive the doctrine appears to exist. Even the Media Research Center's case that liberals are out to revive the doctrine appears awfully weak. Note that the most compelling piece of evidence (the lede paragraph) turns out in the end to be totally erroneous. The rest of the argument draws on quotes that are old, ambiguous (Schumer is simply being factually accurate when he says that some of the same people who oppose government involvement in political speech want the government to limit other types of speech), or come from people who aren't exactly cutting-edge political figures.

It's easy to dismiss this stuff from right-wing radio, which was soundly repudiated at every turn by voters and hopes to at least gain a win in a battle against no detectable opponent. But Will usually comes from the sensible side. Does he know of a push to reinstate the doctrine that isn't obvious anywhere else? And if so, why didn't he use a paragraph or two of his column to tell us what that evidence is?

UPDATE: For the short version of this discussion, go here.

4 comments:

Mark T said...

I for one would like to see the Fairness Doctrine reinstated. They are public airwaves, and as the last election showed, a majority of the public is not rabid right wingy dingy.

Anonymous said...

They are only public airwaves, Mark, because at one time there were no "rabid right wingy dingy" able to speak about why the "public" shouldn't own the airwaves, precisely because of the kind of control over free speech as that which did occur and would occur. That's pretty "rabid," I know. I disagree with Dave, I heard numerous leading Democratic heads say something to the effect that the Fairness Doctrine needed to be revised. As far as I know it was introduced in some form as legislation and there are other variations to be introduced in the future. I also recall hearing the results of a survey which proved that there are a lot of Marks out there. Who's to say that all that "right wing wingy dingy" talk didn't succeed in putting the matter back into the bottle -- it is pretty indefensible if everyone is watching. If you don't like it just turn it off. That's what I had to do for the years before the "Fairness Doctrine" was lifted. The first time I heard Rush Limbaugh, I was stunned to hear someone on the radio speak their mind so plainly and my initial reaction was to fear for his life. Is that the reaction of someone used to experiencing free speech?

Mark T said...

There is no free speech when only one side is heard, and in a constant drum beat. The fairness doctrine never dictated content - only that at least two sides of a story be given. Right wing wingy dingies don't do well in that environment.

Most owners of broadcast outlets are right wing, most advertisers are right wing. That's why right wing dominates the public airwaves. Dedicated broadcasters could easily mine other audiences. But they don't try. It's wingy dingies and music, period.

The downside of the FD had nothing to do with free speech, which it enhanced. Rather, it had a chilling effect - broadcasters, faced with the mandate that they present both (or all) sides of an issue, often opted to offer no sides at all.

Anonymous said...

Mark,

You hit the nail on the head in stating:

"The downside of the FD had nothing to do with free speech, which it enhanced. Rather, it had a chilling effect - broadcasters, faced with the mandate that they present both (or all) sides of an issue, often opted to offer no sides at all."

While I personally find much of the right-wing commentary borderline idiotic, I still prefer it - at least for entertainment value - to the non-political pablum we would return to if the FD were reinstated.