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Unfairness of the Fairness Doctrine
April 16, 2007

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

One of the most Orwellian-named pieces of regulation in human history is set to make a comeback, if left-leaning bloggers and Democrat legislators get their way.

It's the "fairness doctrine" and in the past was part of the regulatory function of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Under its regulatory thumb, broadcasters were required to provide equal reply time to anyone who claimed their opinions had been derogated.

The regulation was properly eliminated in the 1980s. Similar to the decency rules of the FCC, the fairness doctrine was justified at the time because of a scarcity of broadcast frequencies and because radio and television stations as public trustees are not necessarily entitled to First Amendment protections.

The demise of Don Imus' radio and television shows has provided impetus to proponents of a renewed version of the fairness doctrine. In reality, though, the "new and improved" fairness doctrine, if passed, will be a means of restoring a liberal media monopoly.

Democrat Rep. Maurice Hinchey has proposed the Media Ownership Reform Act, which melds the old fairness doctrine with other draconian speech squelching legislation. And Democrat Rep. Dennis Kucinich has been talking about having hearings on the Hill to determine whether the fairness doctrine should be reinstated.

On another front, George Soros's pet media watchdog, Media Matters, has been pushing to bring back the fairness doctrine since 2004. Ultra-liberal tilting Media Matters gets its money from a Soros think tank, the Center for American Progress.

The face, and blatantly biased blogger of Media Matters, is David Brock.

The site recently sent out a list of statements that Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Michael Savage have made over the years so as to capitalize on the raging controversy and to implicitly place the conservative talk show hosts in the same pariah category as Imus. But despite the media frenzy and fabricated feedback loop, it is important for us to focus on the central issue with regard to the future of free expression; that is, the fairness doctrine, if implemented, will do precisely the opposite of what supporters claim it will.

Instead of more ideas and opinions on the airwaves, the public will assuredly end up with far fewer. Because of the potential threat under which broadcasters will be operating (i.e., that they will be mandated to provide equal response time for anyone considered to be aggrieved in any way), they will be far less likely to allow opinions to be aired at all. Additionally, broadcasters mandated by law to air opinions that their audiences do not want to hear will be compelled to act contrary to the free market.

The tragic consequence will be to repress the marketplace of ideas and seriously suppress freedom. If you think the FCC is politicized now, just imagine what things will be like if a government body is given the power to evaluate opinion.

From an author who is not prone to exaggeration, I have one other critical point to make: If the fairness doctrine passes in any form, liberals will be hurt very little; conservative media, on the other hand, will be decimated.

Conservative talk radio will be wholly undermined and may quite possibly cease to exist. It's the one media venue where conservatives have been dominant—not print, network or cable television, film or music—AM radio, that's it.

But liberals, as they have proven, fight on every front. With that mindset, no venue of conservative dominance would ever be allowed to stand.

Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved, and countless other conservative talk show hosts gained favor with the public thanks to the intellectual, informative and entertaining nature of their programming and the unfettered application of the free market.

I'd call that fairness.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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