Argument: Fairness Doctrine would counter conservative domination of radio
What has changed since the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine? Is there more coverage of controversial issues of public importance? “Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine we have had much less coverage of issues,” says MAP’s Schwartzman, adding that television news and public affairs programming has decreased locally and nationally. According to a study conducted by MAP and the Benton Foundation, 25 percent of broadcast stations no longer offer any local news or public affairs programming at all (Federal Communications Law Journal, 5/03).
The most extreme change has been in the immense volume of unanswered conservative opinion heard on the airwaves, especially on talk radio. Nationally, virtually all of the leading political talkshow hosts are right-wingers: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Bill O’Reilly and Michael Reagan, to name just a few. The same goes for local talkshows. One product of the post-Fairness era is the conservative “Hot Talk” format, featuring one right-wing host after another and little else. Disney-owned KSFO in liberal San Francisco is one such station (Extra!, 3–4/95). Some towns have two.
When Edward Monks, a lawyer in Eugene, Oregon, studied the two commercial talk stations in his town (Eugene Register-Guard, 6/30/02), he found “80 hours per week, more than 4,000 hours per year, programmed for Republican and conservative talk shows, without a single second programmed for a Democratic or liberal perspective.” Observing that Eugene (a generally progressive town) was “fairly representative,” Monks concluded: “Political opinions expressed on talk radio are approaching the level of uniformity that would normally be achieved only in a totalitarian society. There is nothing fair, balanced or democratic about it.”
Greg Todd, guest blogger on Media Curmudgeon, July 2008 - I have a somewhat different view, since I regard Rush Limbaugh as a more serious menace than you probably do. To refer to him as a "wingnut" puts you in the camp of almost everyone I know in New York City, who regards him as a laughable fool. He is no fool, and he is far from laughable.
The political writers that the founding fathers looked to for guidance were all well versed in their classical history, and knew how quickly the democracies and republics of the classical world had been turned to tyranny and empire by the power of demagogues to sway the masses. Their ideas of government were designed to buffer the downsides of a true democracy with the stability of republican forms of government. And their assessment of liberty of the press was not the unilateral, no-restrictions-of-any-kind approach we now seem to take for granted in this country.
David Hume, in Of the Liberty of the Press, notes the risk of an unfettered demagogue to the republic -- but believes that the demagogue cannot take hold of the minds of the people because the demagogue's words will be read in the privacy of the library.
We need not dread from this liberty any such ill consequences as followed from the harangues of the popular demagogues of Athens and tribunes of Rome. A man reads a book or pamphlet alone and coolly. There is none present from whom he can catch the passion by contagion. He is not hurried away by the force and energy of action.
I read this as a QUALIFIED endorsement of the freedom of speech.
And I see the Fairness Doctrine as an attempt to rectify the dangers which Hume and the founders well understood -- because they knew their ancient history. Americans today do not know their ancient history.
I have spent too many hours listening to Rush Limbaugh, and have heard too many smart, intelligent people parrot EXACTLY his words, not to understand the mind power exerted over people stuck in their cars, driving in traffic, angry at their fellow drivers and with their lot in life.
We are unwise to laugh at Rush Limbaugh. We have, in fact, too much freedom of the press in this country. The public figure doctrine needs to be revised, the Fairness Doctrine needs to be revived, there must be brakes and restraints on falsehoods and deception, otherwise they will propagate like bacteria through a population that we Upper Eastsiders rarely mix with.
US Senator John Kerry, the 2004 presidential nominee for the Democrats, said in 2007: "I think the Fairness Doctrine ought to be there, and I also think equal time doctrine ought to come back," he said on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC. "These are the people that wiped out ... one of the most profound changes in the balance of the media is when the conservatives got rid of the equal time requirements and the result is that they have been able to squeeze down and squeeze out opinion of opposing views and I think its been a very important transition in the imbalance of our public eye."
"Broadcasting, reintroducing the Fairness Doctrine". Debatabase. 27 Aug. 2008 - Since the Fairness Doctrine was lifted in 1987 right-wing talk shows have come to dominate the airwaves. Conservative hosts and commentators present a populist and very one-sided viewpoint, routinely abusing callers and guests who disagree with their opinions. The tone of these programmes is intolerant and unpleasant, playing to the prejudices of their listeners and promoting a very narrow set of views. This cheapens the quality of public debate, as those who disagree with the values and policies of the broadcasters are labelled as not just wrong, but also stupid, immoral and unpatriotic. Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine would ensure a more balanced diet of opinion, and help to bring back a greater degree of civility to the airwaves.
One problem of the existing situation is that conservatism and liberalism are not simple polar opposites, with some stations putting out one view and others providing a clear alternative. Firstly talk radio presents a particular type of conservative viewpoint. It is libertarian on some issues (low taxes, guns, opposition to a welfare state) but authoritarian on others (against gay marriage freedom of choice on abortion, and the rights of terrorist suspects). It is in favour of military engagement abroad but protectionist on economic issues. So there is not even a range of conservative opinion on offer over the airwaves. Secondly, pluralism is valued by liberal broadcasters by their very nature, but not by conservative ones who are convinced that only their way is right. As a result conservative stations have squeezed out opposing views entirely, while liberal broadcasters are still happy to give airtime to right-wing views alongside those of others.