The return of the Fairness Doctrine

Saturday, February 07, 2009

My six year old's three favorite words seem to be, "that's not fair." This follows some injustice, real or perceived. As tempting as it is to respond with, "life's not fair," I really try to explain why it is fair or why the unfairness is occuring. In some cases, the unfairness sucks and there really isn't a good solution.

The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in 1949 and existed in various forms up until 1987. Basically, it requires radio and television stations to present both sides of "controversial" issues, but does not specify how this should be done. Prior to the last election, there was some interest in bringing this back in response to conservative dominance of talk-radio. There didn't seem to be a lot of support, but conservatives were up in arms about it and were convinced that Obama would push for it's return.



I thought this was a dead issue, but apparently Debbie Stabenow is working to have it brought back in some form. I have never been a huge fan of Debbie. She has never impressed me as someone that is really interested in working hard for Michigan. If this is the kind of legislation we can expect from her, I prefer she goes back to doing nothing. I should also note that Stabenow's husband (next to her in the picture) is a co-founder of TalkUSA, a left-leaning radio network. The Fairness Doctrine could certainly benefit him financially, so this may be a conflict of interest. I should also note that Obama has stated that he opposes the Fairess Doctrine.

The problems I have with the Fairness Doctrine are many, but I will just throw out a few.

--Who decides what issues are controversial and deserving of an opposing viewpoint?

--Who gets to provide the opposing viewpoint?

--How do they present their view?

--What mechanism will be in place to make decisions and how can someone or some group appeal that decision?

The other big problem is that, under current case law, content based restrictions on speech are generally not going to be allowed. I don't see how this will survive under the Constitution.

This issue begs the question...is this really a problem that Congress (or the FCC) needs to look at? Yes, the media is biased. I think you would be hard pressed to find many places that seriously look at both sides of an issue. Personally, I think people should look at both sides, but most people tend to gravitate towards news and information that they agree with. While conservatives certainly have a strong hold on talk-radio, the same can't be said of all sources of information. Television and the Internet are very well represented of all points of views. This is most true with the Internet, where you can find an outlet for any belief and viewpoint.

Do we really want the gov't regulating what is presented to us by the media?

6 comments:

Smitty 7:24 PM  

Personally, I think people should look at both sides, but most people tend to gravitate towards news and information that they agree with.

As a trained and schooled counselor, you know absolutely that people bias towards their own beliefs; never mind how many times this came up during the election cycle in terms of what people listen to/watch and why. Your point, then, is well taken in that really....besides for being bad public policy, it's totally unnecessary.

I hate Fox News. I normally think their point of view, if you can call it that, is wrong just about every time they open their mouths. So...I tend not to watch Fox News. I am also absolutely blind to any form of bias on CNN or NPR and tend to view NPR as delivering actual balanced news. But that's largely because I agree with them most of the time and tend towards their bias/interpretation of events.

Thus: it is simply unnecessary for a "Fairness Doctrine" beyond how bad and unconstitutional it is.

The only "fairness" I see a need for is a balance between political candidates. If you give one candidate 5 minutes in an interview or cover one of their pressers, do the same for the other. Beyond that, if the anchors spend 10 minutes deriding one and 5 minutes slobbering over the other, that's their business. See the difference? AM I making sense?

steves 8:48 AM  

Media bias is complex and very dependent on a person's perspective. As you point out, we are mostly blind to bias that agrees with our own viewpoint. It seems just right to us. I also think it depends on the subject, moreso than ideology. Saying the media is "liberal" is a weak argument when you take a broad look at them. On many subjects, they certainly are, but overall, that isn't a fair statement.

I don't think Fox is that bad. I am talking about the news portion, not the pundit shows. I don't watch CNN at all. NPR is good, for the most part. Probably the most balanced news show, IMO, is Newshour on PBS. They try to present some depth and have intelligent commentary.

Personally, I think the media did a shitty job in the last election. In many cases, they focused hard on stupid stuff and ignored important stuff (IMO).

Smitty 11:27 AM  

Probably the most balanced news show, IMO, is Newshour on PBS

FWIW, I'm a Bill Moyers guy for exactly that reason. Engaged questions that seek in-depth answers. If only political candidates were interviewed on a larger stage than PBS with the same level of attention to detail and probing inquiry.

Mr Furious 2:16 PM  

Gawd, I hate Stabenow. She is pretty much worthless except for raising my blood pressure...

The Fairness Doctrine is a waste of time, and going nowhere. Leave it to Debbie to feed the right-wing base by lending credibility to their braying.

Joel 11:39 AM  

My take on it, is that we shouldn't spend tax payer dollars in an attempt to enforce a concept which, by all accounts, is principally unenforceable. As you've touched upon (and without getting too philosophical) what is "balance?" Outside of what Smitty said, "5 minutes for this side, 5 minutes for that side," there is no way to achieve any form of universal "balance" with respect to the messages being delivered, only balance in the eyes of one person or group; presumably the individual(s) placed in charge of ensuring it. It's a rediculous notion.

What this really boils down to is the educated public. As our collective abilities to reason and discern improve, so too will our ability to ferret out truth, and our desire to seek facts on BOTH SIDES of an argument. At that point, balance will be sought by the general public without the need for it to be legislated. We will never be able to force "balance" on people who simply want to be spoon fed "facts" which reinforce their own notions of truth and falsity.

Bob 12:36 AM  

"I should also note that Stabenow's husband (next to her in the picture) is a co-founder of TalkUSA, a left-leaning radio network. The Fairness Doctrine could certainly benefit him financially,"

Actually I think the fairness doctrine would be detrimental to a left wing radio netwrok or any other network that leans hard one way.

I would say the end of the fairness doctrine led to networks that only lean to one side, including to complete conservative takeover of stations like WJR Detroit.

The problem I have with radio (and the lack of "fairness")is that it presents a pro corperate message that is also a pro-Republican message.

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