Talk radio has been significantly dominated by conservative voices in recent years, and with Democrats now in power of Congress and the Oval Office, talks of reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine have been floating around Capitol Hill.
The Fairness Doctrine was a policy implemented by the FCC in 1949 in order to ensure that radio hosts presented both sides of controversial issues of public importance. In 1987, the FCC abolished the doctrine, which has since prompted discussion about instituting Congressional legislation of the same nature.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Fairness Doctrine, and its potential violation of First Amendment rights. Opponents of the doctrine claim that setting restrictions on material that is discussed on radio shows is an infringement on free speech. In a 1969 Supreme Court case, Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, the court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine stating that since there is only a limited radio spectrum, the material of speakers could be regulated in order to maintain and uphold openness.
Many prominent democrats such as John Kerry, Bill Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, have expressed support for the reintroduction of the Fairness Doctrine, but recently Barack Obama stated publicly that he was against reinstating the policy and we support him.
There is a general consensus among top conservatives that the Fairness Doctrine is an attempt by Democrats to regulate their views on the airwaves. Rush Limbaugh, host of the most-listened-to radio show in the country, has been publicly outspoken about his fear and discontent that congress may attempt to put policies in place to regulate content on the radio.
According to the standards of the free market, and the way in which material on the airwaves should, in fact compete for listeners, the Fairness Doctrine is an infringement on the First Amendment. Essentially, the Fairness Doctrine would be the Title IX of the radio in guaranteeing certain amounts of time or space to opposing views, regardless of quality or listenership.
When a radio show gets a large amount of listeners, then they will stay on the air since the demand for that show is high. It just so happens that conservative talk shows generally get more listeners, and therefore are entitled to continue what they are doing in order to bring in ratings. This involves spreading their opinions. If a law were imposed to guarantee airtime to alternative views, this would not serve the viewers who have clearly expressed a preference for conservative talking heads.
Just because liberals’ views are our there and can be given adequate time on the air doesn’t mean it should. What the government would be doing if they reinstalled the Fairness Doctrine is endorsing a side so that liberalism would rival radio’s conservatives. Frankly, liberal media doesn’t need the help and shouldn’t receive extra attention to spite its conservative counterparts.
Another side of the controversy is providing listeners with adequate and fair reporting on important issues. In journalism, Americans have come to value and strive for objectivity, but some have lost sight of its meaning. At times, it had represented a mathematical formula or prercentage determined in order to give fair share to different, opposing sides.
In actuality, a journalist knows when to give each side their space, but is smart enough to know accurate reporting transcends space and time. Whether it is a talking head on a radio show or a print journalist, people who consume this media are owed the truth and should be able to see through the mandated veil of balance.
The radio should not be treated differently than any other facet of the media. As stated in the First Amendment, Congress has no right to abridge freedom of speech, or of the press. Mandating that hosts discuss all sides of controversial issues is demanding that their opinions must be downplayed in the name of fairness. Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine would wrongly allow the government to regulate broadcasted content, and this would be a gross violation of the First Amendment that is essential to maintaining the open discussion that is relevant to the needs of its citizens.
-The Recorder’s Editorial Board