Sunday, February 08, 2009

Say No to the Fairness Doctrine

(I'm sorry about the photo, but it does have something to do with this topic)

Democratic leaders are pushing for a so-called "Fairness Doctrine", which will require any FCC-licensed broadcasting company to "present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that is honest, equitable, and balanced."

This proposed law is obviously in response to various right-leaning broadcasters, such as FoxNews, to extreme right-wing radio talkers like Rush Limbaugh.

Several things immediately spring to mind regarding this proposal.

First, it deeply offends my somewhat Libertarian leanings. Barack Obama has come out against it, saying through his spokesman that he "does not support reimposing the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters. He considers this debate 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."

Not to mention it will be difficult to impossible to enforce equally. There's no doubt that the political party in charge will have a huge influence on the enforcement of this law. The FCC is famous for selective enforcement of their rules, and the fact that you can't specifically codify "fairness" means that there will be a quagmire of legal challenges and entanglements.

Do we need to tie up our courts with this sort of nonsense?

Next, the biggest complaint I see from many supporters of the doctrine is in the talk radio arena. Politicians tend to be on the back end of the curve when it comes to informational technologies, and because of their myopia they don't see that the biggest new influence on news and opinion is the Internet. Talk radio is slowly dying out and becoming less of an influence than it was historically. Basically, people who gather most of their information from talk radio belong to a rapidly shrinking demographic.

I'm guessing that by the end of the next decade, political talk radio will almost be analogous with the radio serials of the 1930s and 40s. Along with flying cars, everyone will have a wrist-internet device that allows for net surfing while relaxing in our space-age quasi-futuristic Mylar clothing, and we'll have all our nutritional requirements met by a single daily pill. (I possibly may be wrong on this one.)

Finally, there is the issue of Constitutionality. How can government limit free speech that is essentially composed of opinion? If we attempt to regulate broadcast mediums, then can the Internet be far behind? Can you imagine the disaster THAT would entail?

Regardless of how infuriating right-wing talk radio often is, I'm firmly of the opinion that we should leave it alone, and simply ridicule it mercilessly like we've been doing.

It's been working out fine so far.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you Bob. I just read a post on saying all those guys who used to listen to Limbaugh driving back and forth to work are now sitting on their ass watching TV out of work. I've written comments before about being a fan of Bob Steele's on WTIC so if you do the simplest of math you know i'm older than dirt so I appreciate your phrase"rapidly shrinking demographic". Beat's the hell out of dying generation. I do listen to Rush once in awhile and off to some soothing music. I feel sad for anyone who takes anything he says as value. As for Fox, CNN or any of the other talking heads, I don't get them anymore. Why pay for something I dont enjoy any more. After 7:00PM I'm on this PC 'til the wee hours of the morning with more info I'll ever absorb. I do not think I'm alone. J.C. Sr.

Authentic Connecticut Republican said...

>>being a fan of Bob Steele's on WTIC

Heck yes; he was wonderful.

"Last night I was dreaming that I was a muffler...and when I woke up this morning I was exhausted"

Meanwhile - on topic; so long as both the Courant & MS/NBC are around I don't think the left is without a voice of their own.

mlnmatt said...

Bob, what "Democratic leaders"?

CT Bob said...

Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. to name two senators right off the top. With a little research I'll find more, I'm sure.

Don Pesci said...

The problem with the fairness doctrine lies in stopping the doctrine Once the fairness vampires sink their teeth into Limbaugh, what's to stop them from drawing blood from CNN, the counterpart of Fox, or National Public Radio? Talk Radio is only a small part of the communications pie, which is fairly liberal.

CT Bob said...

Don, that's exactly right.

There's no upside for anyone to embrace an obvious strategy to limit free speech. If the thoughts and opinions expressed by the talkers are sufficiently outrageous, people will speak up about it and there will be public blowback. We've seen plenty of examples of this kind of thing in the last several years.

The fairness doctrine would probably start with talk radio, I'm sure, but it would soon spread to broadcast TV. I don't know if it would actually effect cable news outlets like FoxNews and CNN, but it's a slippery slope. Once you start down it, it's very hard to stop (let alone regain your former position).

Anonymous said...

Not only do I think it's a stretch to classify Bingaman or Stabenow as party leaders... they also haven't introduced any bill that would actually reinstate the fairness doctrine. How is it that they're pushing for it?

I think you've been punked by some right wingers, Bob.

CT Bob said...

You're right in that the right wingers are more up in arms against any potential reenactment of the doctrine than the left, but there are other Democrats such as Dick Durbin and Chuck Shumer who have also spoken as recently as November about wanting to see it restored.

But the right is much more outspoken about this issue. Which basically means they agree with me, not the other way around. :)

Authentic Connecticut Republican said...

>>But the right is much more outspoken about this issue. Which basically means they agree with me, not the other way around. :)

Yes of course, in fact and I'm sure Pesci will agree; we don't know a right wing talk show host that doesn't speak highly of you Bob.

CT Bob said...

It certainly is about time people realized this is a "Bob world", and they're just renting space in it!

Authentic Connecticut Republican said...

CT Bob said...
>>It certainly is about time people realized this is a "Bob world", and they're just renting space in it!

Some of us have known for ages, but I guess we're just cutting edge out in front sort of people.

Unknown said...

I agree that the Fairness Doctrine is a tool for ensuring equal access to audiences by differing points of view whose time is long past. In the Reagan era, when it was repealed, the repeal enabled minority viewpoints with relatively unlimited access to limited broadcast outlets to dominate. Today, with millions of online publishers dominating many aspects of political discussion today, fairness is more a matter of making sure that these alternative voices have equal access to voters. Ensuring that cable companies, phone companies and other carriers provide non-biased access to these other points of view should be the focus of fairness enforcement in today's technology environment. In other words, let those who want to be unfair say what they have to say, but let those who want to be fair drown them out by the sheer volume of free access to their opinions.

Anonymous said...

I would not characterize The fairness doctrine as "free speech" v. "fairness." The (pro-bizness) deregulation embraced by Happy Ronnie Raygun and his administration brought this country a whole lot of woe that we are still dealing today with in the form of this economic mess, increased casualties in the workplace (miners) and other egregious pro-business v. the little person stuff. The news is so slanted to corporate interests that there is very little room for the voice of the average american.
But there will be some that think Rupert Murdoch, BillOReilly, Lou Dobbs and Co. are representing "us" or "free speech", when in fact they are representing themselves, their right-wing alliances and their big business buddies. The fact that they can alter transcripts, facts and such, and blackout on important news that affects us all (see really makes them propaganda outlets, not news.

Anonymous said...

I could make a parallel argument with net equality. The fact that internet users can access Bob or Jane Hamsher, the same as they can access Disney Inc. or any other inc. website, is a kind of fairness doctrine. Telecommunications companies and politicians (follow the money with Dems as well as Repugs) have wanted to do away with that. In fact, the same politicians and telecommunications companies who are against the fairness doctrine, are also often against net equality. For them it's not about free speech, it's making sure that you pay up the wazoo to have that "free speech." And companies who pay big, e.g. Disney (or fill in the blanks), should have a bigger say, according to them. So that all you would hear is news that contributes to the well-being of Disney (or fill in the blanks) inc. and their blessed stockholders.
The same politicians who are against the Fairness doctrine, are also often against regulations that would ensure that a company that claims to sell peanut butter, are actually selling actual peanut butter, and not for instance, 2% peanuts with 98% other ingredients.
You could make a very good argument that news today sells 2% peanuts (news) and 98% (junk that's in their blessed corporate interests).

CT Bob said...

The net neutrality argument is very different than the fairness doctrine. NN would affect the quality of service, whereas the FD has to do with content and programming.

The difference would be like newspapers being unable to get enough paper to print, rather than censoring the words printed in them.

claymonster said...

If I'm not mistaken, radio stations are still required to do a certain amount of "PSAs" (Public Service Announcements) which satisfies the mandate that broadcasters "operate in the public interest".
Naturally, these are run late at night or on weekends, when listenership is lowest, and that might be a bad thing. However, radio, tv, print, and (increasingly) websites pay their bills with advertising revenue. If they don't have listeners, no one will advertise. The reason Rush and other conservative entertainers are on nationwide is that people listen and companies advertise. Air America and other overtly liberal networks have failed because no one listens and no one advertises.
This angers some on the left who seem to have forgotten that the Rushes of the world thrived on talk radio because conservative viewpoints were scarce if not non-existent on the TV news or in newspapers.
Should the "fairness doctrine" be re-established, stations will shy away from ANYTHING that could be considered controversial for fear of running afoul of vaguely defined rules (what's fair?). Also, an Obama FCC would only target Fox News and talk radio, being blind to the overwhelmingly liberal bias of the mainstream media. Case in point: No one in the mainstream media would question Obama's past, ask tough questions or hold his feet to the fire about things he said in his own books. That's not journalism, it's propaganda. The same thing Rush, Hannity, etc. are accused of (but neither of them claims to be a journalist!).

Anonymous said...

Actually bob, I don't think they're that different. NN and FN. Eventually non-net neutrality would affect content. Censorship comes in all forms. Most often, we don't see it because it's exclusion of content. Again, I think you are mistaken if you are assuming fairness doctrine is all about censorship.

Anonymous said...

claymonster, well that is an argument often echoed. Should the media always reflect the corporate values, or should its coverage reflect things that are in the public's interest to know? (Remember it's in the interest of a corporation to look after its own welfare, *not yours*. ) I'm not sure of your survival of the fittest argument though. While Rupert Murdoch plummets, Olbermann and Rachel Maddow exceed expectations. Donahue had excellant ratings before he was yanked from the air. Does "the left" receive the same love from the corporate world that Murdoch and friends do? Probably not.

And btw. There is a thing called wingnut welfare. A lot of right-wing organs are subsidized by the moonies, scaife, et al. From what I've heard, Ann Coulter's screeds may not always be profitable, but she'd still receive money from wingnut welfare system as long as she continues to screech the party lines. That's not survival of the "fittest."

Anonymous said...

excuse me fairness doctrine (FD). And what I mean is Fairness Doctrine is that I dont' think it is about censoring what is already on air.

Authentic Connecticut Republican said...

mui said
While Rupert Murdoch plummets, Olbermann and Rachel Maddow exceed expectations...

Prime time Feb. 13, 2009

More people watch Fox News than CNN, CNBC & MSNBC combined.

FNC – 2,618,000 viewers
CNN — 1,119,000 viewers
MSNBC –1,088,000 viewers
CNBC – 232,000 viewers
HLN – 685,000 viewers