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Argument: Fairness Doctrine is more a code of conduct than mandate

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"TV View; Why the Fairness Doctrine is Still Important". New York Times. 15 Sept. 1985 - "The Fairness Doctrine is a code of broadcast behavior, distilled from 50 years of legislation, court decisions and F.C.C. practice, and defined not so much by what it is as by what it does. When the F.C.C. said last month that it wanted to abandon the doctrine, it called it the two-pronged obligation that requires broadcasters to provide coverage of vitally important controversial issues in the community...and provide a reasonable opportunity for the presentation of contrasting viewpoints on such issues. An obligation like this, the F.C.C. now says, is no longer appropriate; it has been superseded by changing times.

Purely as a personal matter, meanwhile, this critic prefers the way the F.C.C. defined the Fairness Doctrine in 1974: It is a two-fold duty: (1) The broadcaster must devote a reasonable percentage of broadcast time to public issues; and (2) his coverage of these issues must be fair in the sense that it provides an opportunity for...contrasting points of view.

Either way, the general meaning is the same, and a specific wording is probably unimportant. The Fairness Doctrine always has been more symbolic than real, more a standard to be strived for than an absolute command. The F.C.C. has not been punitive or capricious in enforcing it, and although broadcasters say the Fairness Doctrine exerts a chilling effect, preventing them from examining controversial issues, the chill seems to be mostly in their minds. The F.C.C. seldom penalizes anyone."

Broadcasters, meanwhile, say the Fairnesss Doctrine imposes an unfair burden. They complain that it allows them to be harassed by nuisance suits and plagued by partisans who claim they do not present both sides of an issue. In 1974, the F.C.C. responded to similar complaints from broadcasters by saying that these burdens simply run with the territory. Last month's F.C.C. report reversed this position. It said the burdens were onerous, and that the fear of attracting them imposed a chilling effect on broadcast journalism. It apparently causes the broadcasters to stay away from controversial issues.

The broadcasters who feel the chill, however, do not seem to be responding to much that is real, and it is almost as if the F.C.C. wants to suspend the Fairness Doctrine to help them overcome their own timidity. The F.C.C. report is insistent on the broadcasters' fearfulness, but nowhere are we persuaded that the broadcasters have much to be fearful about. Fairness Doctrine requirements are easily met. Broadcasters, when challenged, must show only that they acted in good faith. This does not require them to grant equal time - that applies only to political candidates - but merely a reasonable opportunity for an opposing viewpoint on an issue. Traditionally, the F.C.C. has interpreted this loosely; a reasonable opportunity is determined largely by the broadcaster."

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