Fairness Doctrine—A Forgotten Theory
The Fairness Doctrine was originally established in 1949—when radio and television stations were just a few—to ensure that equal time was granted to both sides of controversial issues on the airwaves. As a result, holders of broadcast licenses were considered “public trustees”, and therefore had an obligation to give reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on issues of public importance. “Fairness Doctrine” was a policy of the Federal Communications Commission to “‘ensure that all coverage of controversial issues be balanced and fair’” (Giago 2009). In other words, main purpose of doctrine was to make sure that viewers received a diversity of viewpoints.
The Fairness Doctrine has two main elements: it made sure that broadcasters spent some of their time presenting controversial issues of “public interest”, which was often decided by the government; and to show both sides of those matters. However, the doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views that are presented.
Senator Bob Packwood once said, the Fairness Doctrine is “‘a terrible power to put in the hands of Government’” (Corry 1987). Unfortunately, most of his colleagues did not agree. The doctrine was ready to be in law by the vote of 59 to 31 in the Senate. However, President Reagan vetoed it. The Fairness Doctrine, a code of broadcast behavior that had existed almost 40 years as a standard was finally brought down in 1987 by Reagan Administration.
According to Jim DeMint—a Republican Senator from South Carolina—in “Media Bias” by Williams, there were 51 television stations and about 1,500 radio stations in 1949; today, there are 1,800 television stations and 14,000 radio stations, which have the diversity of opinion on the airwaves (DeMint 2009). The reason for that is because broadcasters have been freed from the control of the Fairness Doctrine. Talk radio has become one of the most fast-growing and most profitable media industries by providing average Americans opportunities to join national debates. The Fairness Doctrine, however well intentioned, would slow down the growth of an industry that can create thousands of jobs due to the fact that it gives the government—a minority of people—the control over media shows instead of independent companies and groups.
In addition, the Fairness Doctrine also violated the First Amendment in the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. The doctrine required the show hosts to spend their time talking about two sides of a controversial “fairly”, which often defined by the Federal Government. Under the doctrine, the government can be interpreted to have the right and knowledge to tell broadcasters how and what to broadcast. “It allows the Government to make all sorts of decisions that are contrary to all kinds of elemental freedoms of expression” (Kaplan 1985).
Furthermore, broadcasters had a lot of complaints about the “chilling effect” that the Fairness Doctrine brought on journalism. In order to avoid the requirement to go out and find out the contrasting viewpoints on every issue that raised in the story. As a consequent, some journalists simply ignored any coverage of some controversial issued.
Liberals and leftists are more likely to support the Fairness Doctrine for two reasons. Firstly, some believe that the Fairness Doctrine would bring the accountability back to the airwaves. According to Steve Almond, “the abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 spurred a talk radio revolution” (Williams 2011). Broadcasters no longer have to spend half of their time talking opposing views on controversial issues. As the consequent, conservative talk shows have dominate the airwaves ever since. Statistically, broadcasters spent 254 hour each week for liberal talks and 2,570 hours for conservative speeches. “Why? Because talk radio’s business model is predicated on