Why I Support The Fairness Doctrine

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Last week, the Center for American Progress released a study that confirmed what many of us already knew: the nation’s radio airwaves are dominated by conservative talk. According to the study, 91% of the America’s news/talk radio programming is comprised of conservatives. As of Spring 2007, 2570 hours of conservative talk are offered per week in comparison to 254 hours of progressive talk. A separate analysis of the top ten radio markets revealed that 76% of the programming is conservative and only 24% is progressive. In response to this staggering imbalance, many people have called for a revival of the Fairness Doctrine, a federal policy that forced broadcasters to allow equal broadcasting time to opposing views.

Established in 1940, the Fairness Doctrine required government regulation in order to ensure that broadcast companies, of which there were only three, operated in the public interest by adequately informing citizens of important news. The doctrine, which had been in place since the establishment of the FCC, was vetoed by Ronald Reagan in 1987 when Congress attempted to mandate it. Soon after, Right-wing demagogue Rush Limbaugh began to syndicate his radio show in unprecedented fashion, leading the charge toward a conservative media revolution that has overdetermined American politics and left few progressive bodies standing.

Of course, pundits on the Right insist that this spike is due to the demands of the so-called Free Market. Observers like National Review’s Rich Lowry argue that conservative radio is ubiquitous simply because the American people want to hear Right-wing voices more than anyone else’s. Unfortunately, the numbers say otherwise: 56 percent of the American public and 53 percent of regular talk show listeners identify as liberal or moderate. Why wouldn’t they want radio options that reflect their political orientations?

Not coincidentally, the rise in conservative radio has been paralleled by an equally sharp drop in local ownership over the past twenty years. Since the 1980s, the number of large media companies has shrunk from over fifty to lesser than ten. At the same time, thanks to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, locally owned networks have been swallowed up by companies like Clear Channel, which owns more than 1,200 radio stations around the country. This reorganization of ownership has rendered the market anything but free. In addition to cutting jobs and wages, the consolidation of media outlets has devoured small companies and eliminated ownership opportunities for women and people of color. Why does this matter? According to the Center for American Progress study, locally owned companies, as well as those owned by women and people of color, are considerably more likely to provide non-conservative programming.

Simply put, conservative radio dominates because American people don’t have a choice.

Although the Fairness Doctrine remains our best option for sustaining any semblance of media democracy, it is not without its limitations and shortcomings. By legislating our demands for equal time for the “other side,” we reify a liberal/conservative binary that effectively obscures the existence of perspectives that fall outside of that shortsighted dichotomy. Also, by intervening in the programming decisions of corporatized radio outlets, we fail to address the more profound structural problems that accompany neo-liberal globalization. Nevertheless, the Fairness Doctrine will provide us with a much-needed respite from the conservative media assault that has undermined democratic discourse and social justice.

11 thoughts on “Why I Support The Fairness Doctrine

  1. Last time I checked radio was a private business pushed and pulled by the forces of the consumers of said product. If the left had personalities that were compelling and could garner an audience the stations would line up to put them on. After all the only color they see is green. Air America did such a thing and fell flat on its face. Tell me why the government should tell people what they can and cannot listen to? Its not about choice, the public has made its choice and that is conservative talk. I doubt the left would be upset if it was the other way around.
    We have government sponsored radio. It is the NPR and it is OVERWHELMINGLY liberal and very few people listen to it. Private radio stations put on programming that will help the bottom line. It has as much right to do that as TV has to put on Gilligans Island reruns if they want.Govt has no business telling stations where its hosts should lean. The public will, and it has.

    Does big brother wear tye dye and hemp sneakers?

  2. I like my daily dose of conservative radio while driving – it keeps my critical thinking skills sharpened. I find many of the radio host comical. They’re just high paid street Right evangelist desperately trying to convert souls. I’d agree – the air waves are skewed.

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  4. The context in which the Fairness Doctrine was formed is now completely unrecognizable. The amount of media outlets in television alone numbers in the double digits, radio, newsprint and magazines spread differing opinions as well. All these sources could still theoretically be controlled by media conglomerates, thereby still leaving a somewhat concrete argument for the Fairness Doctrine. However, the fatal blow to the argument that the government should regulate media is the internet. The internet has created such a massive outlet for alternative media that there is no possible way that any body, the government, a media oligarchy, the CIA, could control American access to differing opinions. The idea that we need the government to provide us with protection from corporate media filtering is laughable.
    If the government is regulating the media, who is controlling the output? Essentially, the government is saying “you can’t trust those companies to tell you the truth. Trust us. We’ll tell you the truth.” Excuse me? The government composed of the two party system. That means the media outlets will eschew third party views, and, under orders from the government, parrot the platforms of the Democrat and Republican parties. Additionally, the same companies targeted as the Goebbels-esque bogeymen in the Fairness Doctrine are the same that make seven figure contributions to the coffers of the politicians that would be in charge of bringing truth to the media.


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