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Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Fairness Doctrine: What You May Not Know

Cross-posted by Maggie at Maggie's Notebook

Democrat dominance in Washington, D.C. guarantees the reinstitution of some type of policy to control the balance of Conservative and Liberal radio talk shows.

Barack Obama announced the appointment of radical, far-left lawyer, Henry Rivera, to head the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Rivera, a former FCC Commissioner who resigned during Reagan's term is believed to be a strong supporter of a Fairness Doctrine, and a seeker of his version of media justice on the airwaves.

Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, Dennis Kucinich Nancy Pelosi and Louise Slaughter are all on the record as wanting "Fairness" in radio. Slaughter introduced failed legislation for a Fairness Doctrine in the House in 2004 and 2005.

With a Democrat in the White House, the five-member Commission board-balance reduces in June 2009 to two members of the minority Republican party. Through the FCC, The Fairness Doctrine can be reinstated, or can be newly drafted, without laws, without Congress...just a majority vote of a Democrat majority Board, imposing the Doctrine as an FCC regulation.

If you are unfamiliar with The Fairness Doctrine...and perhaps "fairness" sounds like a good thing, here is an example of what such a doctrine, more commonly known today as a "censorship doctrine," would require: if Rush Limbaugh has a 3 hour daily program, that station must allow a 3 hour daily program with an opposing viewpoint - think the failed Air America, Al Franken, Randi Rhodes. If sponsors do not want to advertise on an unpopular show, because no one listens, then what? I don't think we know.

The original Fairness Doctrine is squarely at odds with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing the people's right to free speech and free press, and guaranteeing that Congress will make no laws lessening, diminishing, depriving, cutting off or as the Amendment says, "abridging" such rights.

A background article from The Museum of Broadcast Communications says this on page two, regarding the dissolution of the Fairness Doctrine by the FCC in August 1985:

"The doctrine, nevertheless, disturbed many journalists, who considered it a violation of First Amendment rights of free speech/free press which should allow reporters to make their own decisions about balancing stories. Fairness, in this view, should not be forced by the FCC. In order to avoid the requirement to go out and find contrasting viewpoints on every issue raised in a story, some journalists simply avoided any coverage of some controversial issues. This "chilling effect" was just the opposite of what the FCC intended.
By the 1980s, many things had changed. The "scarcity" argument which dictated the "public trustee" philosophy of the Commission, was disappearing with the abundant number of channels available on cable TV. Without scarcity, or with many other voices in the marketplace of ideas, there were perhaps fewer compelling reasons to keep the fairness doctrine. This was also the era of deregulation when the FCC took on a different attitude about its many rules, seen as an unnecessary burden by most stations. The new Chairman of the FCC, Mark Fowler, appointed by President Reagan, publicly avowed to kill to fairness doctrine.

By 1985, the FCC issued its Fairness Report, asserting that the doctrine was no longer having its intended effect, might actually have a "chilling effect" and might be in violation of the First Amendment. In a 1987 case, Meredith Corp. v. FCC, the courts declared that the doctrine was not mandated by Congress and the FCC did not have to continue to enforce it." To read the entire document by Val E. Limburg and to find a reading list, go here.
Should the FCC fail to resurrect a Fairness Doctrine, Congress can pass laws to mandate it, and are willing to do so.

Stiffle dissent...any and all judgement of The Obama Years, and the Pelosi House and the Reid Senate - that's the goal. The only way to do it is to hush Rush, and Hannity, and Ingraham, and Boortz, and O'Reilly, and Levine, and the list goes on.

Will the FCC, under Rivera, attempt to resurrect a Commission Fairness Doctrine? We don't know the answer, but consider this:

Here's what you may not know about the Fairness Doctrine: In January 2007, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps unveiled a new American Media Contract at a gathering of the National Media Reform Conference in Memphis.

The text of the speech appears to have been removed from the web, although I have found several links to it, one titled Copps Unveils New American Media Contract, which then takes the reader to the 2008 Conference speech. Just a typo? I don't think so. Maggie's Notebook reported on this on January 27, 2007 and is likely not the only webpage documenting the words of Michael Copps.

Here are portions of the American Media Contract 2007:
We expect these:
1. A right to media that strengthens our democracy
2. A right to local stations that are actually local
3. A right to media that looks and sounds like America
4. A right to news that isn’t canned and radio playlists that aren’t for sale
5. A right to programming that isn’t so damned bad so damned often
Who decides what America "looks and sounds"like?
Who decides if the news is "canned" or not"
Who decides what strengthens our democracy?

Copps said this about the state of television in 2007:
And what do the American people — who own the public airwaves, by the way — get in return? Too little news, too much baloney passed off as news. Too little quality entertainment, too many people eating bugs on reality TV. Too little local and regional music, too much brain-numbing national play-lists. Too little of America, too much of Wall Street and Madison Avenue...."
An immediate red flag: "...too much baloney passed off as news." I think Mr. Copps' baloney is not my baloney.

Other speakers for the event were well-known leftists Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, Geena Davis, Senator Bernie Sanders, Bill Moyers, Helen Thomas and Jessie Jackson.

Henry Rivera is said to see "communications as a civil rights issue," and my research bears that out. As current Chair of the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, he has proposed to:

1) funnel more "federal advertising" to minority media [39]

2) allow foreign ownership; relax U.S. trade barriers to provide "overseas capital," for minority broadcasters [17]

3) develop "constitutionally permissible yet non-dilute method of defining" the class [race] of licensees, i.e., "an applicant's race would be one of the numerous factors considered when the Commission reviews a license application." [30]

4) change the FCC Commission to a more diverse Commission - it should look like America [38]

In addition, Rivera wants a blue-ribbon panel discussion, now, to bring Communications to the table by creating a White House Cabinet position, and he advocates for "localism" to prevail when issuing broadcasting licenses - a position to be seen in Copps' comments above.

The above is taken from Rivera's Minority Media & Telecom Council pdf, page numbers are in brackets.

To date I've found nothing in Rivera's own words directly calling for a Fairness Doctrine, however, in a January 2008 news release, Rivera and a law partner, Richard Wiley, discuss the issue of "localism," - requiring TV stations to "cover local news," Mr. Wiley added, "Are we going to return to the broadcast regulations of the past? That's the question."

I believe this may speak directly to a Fairness Doctrine, which is particularly difficult for smaller local stations to implement. Limited cast and crew find it difficult to allow equal time ON EVERY ISSUE. It's costly, often not pertinent, and history shows that that the stations just give up and don't report controversial issues.

It is reported that Obama is not interested in a Fairness Doctrine, but if you take a look at his press secretary, Michael Ortiz', statement, it not reassuring:
He [Obama] considers this debate [Fairness Doctrine] to be a distraction from the conversation we should be having about opening up the airwaves and modern communications to as many diverse viewpoints as possible.
When it comes to "fairness" in media, we have nothing to feel good about in an Obama administration. Team Obama attorneys:

1) asked the Department of Justice to remove TV ads produced by American Issues Project

2) threatened individual TV and radio stations airing NRA ads even "intimidating cease and desist letters...threatening their FCC license if they run the ads" according to the NRA

3) at the direction of a Team Obama email, deluged the Milt Rosenberg's Chicago radio show interview of Dr. Stanley Kurtz, by jamming phones during the live show, sending copious emails, and gathering outside the studio. ALL at the command of the Obama campaign.

Obama does not bode well for free speech.

The SayAnything Blog put it this way:
...only liberals would think that “fairness” is something that can be implemented by government mandate. but that speaks to how they see the world. This country was founded up on the idea that all men are free, and that all should have equal opportunity to pursue life, liberty and happiness. But rather than equality of opportunity, liberals are only interested in equality of outcome.
For more, here's a video discussion hosted by Fox News' Neil Cavuto, on the Fairness Doctrine: