The Lonely Centrist

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Silencing the Opposition: Return of the Fairness Doctrine?

Newsweek's Howard Fineman has republished a Democratic Party press release... er, written a fine column on efforts to reinstate the so-called "fairness" doctrine. This is the rule that allows the government to intimidate and limit broadcast opinion in the name of promoting "fairness" over the "public" airwaves.

In the last campaign, there was a great deal of talk in Democratic Party circles about the dangers of "one party rule." To their credit, however, Republicans never had so much gall as to make such a blatantly partisan attack on Democratic media. But as Fineman's column makes clear, this is nothing but a partisan effort to silence opposition. That the three major networks, plus CNN and MSNBC, plus NPR, plus most daily papers lean to the left is not enough - the left must silence talk radio, and Fox News is assuredly not far behind.

Both the Kennedy and Nixon administrations used the fairness doctrine to harass political opponents. As former FCC Chairman James Quello put it, "The fairness doctrine doesn't belong in a country that's dedicated to freedom of the press and freedom of speech." This article is a few years old but in short order demonstrates the perniciousness of the doctrine. A quick excerpt:
As defined by proponents of the doctrine, "fairness" apparently means that each broadcaster must offer air time to anyone with a controversial view. Since it is impossible for every station to be monitored constantly, FCC regulators would arbitrarily determine what "fair access" is, and who is entitled to it, through selective enforcement. This, of course, puts immense power into the hands of federal regulators. ...

...[W]ith the threat of potential FCC retaliation for perceived lack of compliance, most broadcasters would be more reluctant to air their own opinions because it might require them to air alternative perspectives that their audience does not want to hear.


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