Fairness Doctrine and Equal Time Requirement

By Gerard Gilliland

Should congress re-implement the fairness doctrine or remove the equal-time requirement (or neither, or both)?

Background from Wikipedia:

The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, that required 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. The proliferation of cable television, multiple channels within cable, public-access channels, and the Internet have eroded this argument.

The equal-time rule specifies that U.S. radio and television broadcast stations must provide an equivalent opportunity to any opposing political candidates who request it. This means, for example, that if a station gives one free minute to a candidate in prime time, it must do the same for another candidate who requests it. The equal-time rule was created because the FCC thought the stations could easily manipulate the outcome of elections by presenting just one point of view, and excluding other candidates. It should not be confused with the now-defunct Fairness Doctrine, which dealt with presenting balanced points of view on matters of public importance. The equal time rule only covers elections but the media is doing equal time on everything political.

My first thought is they should re-implement the Fairness doctrine. However it was canceled because (you chose):  a) The media channels have now expanded or b) Ronald Reagan complained the mainstream media was biased. In 1983, 90% of US media was controlled by fifty companies; in 2012, 90% is controlled by just six companies. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentration_of_media_ownership#cite_note-70. So now you only have an illusion of choice.

Now the existing channels can define their own fairness. When they give "equal time" to both sides of the story, it is equal time but not equal fairness. Both sides present a PhD in marketing to describe one side of the story and Bozo the clown to describe the other. When the center (if there is such a thing) attempts to describe a fair description of the news, the trolls complain of bias. So why don't we give up on the "equal time" concept? It is completely biased. Let the media run what they want. Fox news can do the stories the Koch brothers want. (They do anyway.)

Now ... how close is that to Citizens United? I think Citizens United is bad ... very bad. Basically it is buying the elections. However, aren't the news channels already being bought by their advertisers? When NPR acquired a new Natural Gas sponsor, they reduced the number of environmental reporters from three full-time to one part-time reporter.  Was this restructuring just coincidental or a direct cause and effect? http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20141024/npr-reduces-its-environment-team-one-reporter

Maybe ... (just maybe) the informed listener could influence the advertising. Maybe the fairness stations would win the majority of listeners and thus the majority of advertising. Maybe hate radio advertising would dry up. (Dream on.) Probably hate radio would flourish and the fairness stations would go bankrupt.

Today’s conflicting headlines (neither of which is true): Wall Street is out to destroy Elizabeth Warren – and – Elizabeth Warren is out to destroy Wall Street. It's free speech -- but is it really “follow the money” free speech?  Could this partisan congress ever re-implement the fairness doctrine? Should we remove the equal time rule? I’ve made up my mind – why waste my time. I’ll switch stations if I want to hear the other side. Clay A. Johnson said “Who wants to hear the truth when they can hear that they're right?  Who wants to be informed when they can be affirmed?”