The Fairness Doctrine


In 1949 the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) introduced the Fairness Doctrine which held “…that the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was—in the Commission’s view—honest, equitable, and balanced. The FCC eliminated the Doctrine in 1987, and in August 2011 the FCC formally removed the language that implemented the Doctrine.

The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented.”[1]

The demise of this doctrine is generally thought to have contributed to the polarization in our current politics. It is certainly responsible for the genesis of entities like Fox News, and MSNBC, the 24/7 news giants dominating opinion creation in our countries current iteration. And while it could be argued that freedom of speech requires the institution of freedom of press/journalism, it could also be argued that, once these entities left the bounds of reporting news and turned to pushing agendas they forfeited their status as journalists.

I do agree that there is no absolute objectivity in any journalism as humans and their bias’s are involved, but, this fact does not make the quest for objectivity pointless. Regardless of our feelings on the desire for objectivity though, the current ratings enjoyed by outlets like Fox News and MSNBC prove that this objectivity is not missed. To the contrary, people seem to like to have their bias’s and prejudices fed to them, and once adopted, reinforced again and again.

The danger in this situation should be obvious as, if one is no longer bound by honesty and balance in reporting, then the news itself becomes subjective. It no longer needs to even pretend a nod to the facts or objectivity and instead can invent or manipulate them at will. The “news” entity can now rewrite history, the future, and even the present in an effort to manipulate viewers rather than inform.

Having said all that it should be important that we acknowledge that this is America. This is the land of the free and home of the brave we are led to believe. We are, in modern times, awash in a sea of misinformation. We are bombarded by advertising which is a constant flow of misinformation designed to manipulate and create customers of us all. The major difference though is that we are aware advertising is not constrained. We know they lie and for the most part, we are OK with it. I do not believe that the average person thinks that their “News” source is allowed to make things up to manipulate their opinion.

Because we have the freedom to push agendas in this country to a certain point one would be hard pressed to argue to abolish Fox or MSNBC or their ilk. But something that might be an option is to make them be more honest about who and what they are. Start simply with the word News by forcing them to remove it from their names. This would not be unprecedented as the former World Wrestling federation was forced to admit, for tax purposes, that is was not a sport, and was merely entertainment. So there is your possible blueprint. These would now be entertainment channels, or the more accurate agenda channels. At least then people would have a little bit more information on which to base their opinion gathering activities.



35 thoughts on “The Fairness Doctrine

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