Part 1 – Repeal of The Fairness Doctrine
The “fairness doctrine” of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, was a policy that required the holders of television and radio broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable, and balanced.
The fairness doctrine had two basic elements then,
- It prevented controversial or embarrassing issues from being swept under the carpet. It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of genuine public interest, to ensure the public were kept informed.
- The act also required radio and TV station to handle all issues in a fair and responsible manner by showing contrasting views – both sides of the argument – regarding those matters.
Television and Radio were given a wide latitude as to how to comply with the requirements. It could be done through straightout news articles, public and current affairs shows, or by writing editorials and opinion pieces.
The personal attack rule was integral to the fairness doctrine. It mandated that time for a response by any party criticized during a broadcast must be made available, particulary for issues of great public importance.
In June 1987, Congress attempted to preempt and nullify the impending FCC decision to remove the Fairness Doctrine by attempting to formalize it into law, but the legislation was vetoed by Republican President Ronald Reagan.
(Another attempt to bring the doctrine into law in 1991 was also stopped when Republican President George H.W. Bush threatened another veto.)
On August 5, 1987 therefore, during the Presidency of Republican Ronald Reagan the FCC abolished the fairness doctrine by a unanimous 4–0 vote, the committee compromising two Democrats and two Republicans – a perfect example of how, when something needs to be done to the advantage of elites, political partys work together just fine.
The FCC suggested that because of the many media voices in the marketplace, the doctrine be deemed unconstitutional, stating that,
“The intrusion by government into the content of programming occasioned by the enforcement of [the Fairness Doctrine] restricts the journalistic freedom of broadcasters … [and] actually inhibits the presentation of controversial issues of public importance to the detriment of the public and the degradation of the editorial prerogative of broadcast journalists.”
Really ? I guess once you mention that something is impinging upon freedom in America, then that thing has to go.
After the fairness doctrine was repealed in 1987, the personal attack rule persisted until 2000, when it was first suspended and later abolished that same year by the FCC.
Former President Bill Clinton is one of the many US politicians who have shown support for its reinstatement. During a 2009 appearance on a radio show, Clinton said,
“Well, you either ought to have the Fairness Doctrine or we ought to have more balance on the other side, because essentially there’s always been a lot of big money to support the right wing talk shows“.Former President Clinton, 2009
Of course, it is equally likely that his Republican opponents would argue it is the liberal left wing press that are generously funded, and both are probably correct. But essentially, it seems there is significant support to return to the days of a fair and honest media – at least in theory – in America. I don’t believe it will ever happen.
For what the American media has morphed into since the Reagan era make-over of the nation, is very ugly indeed. All that is required now are slogans proclaiming that your channel is fair and balanced. No effort is required to actually achieve these things.
Corrosive media figures such as former Radio host Rush Limbaugh were able to pioneer the trash talk media industry and it flourished after 1987. Any pretence of balance was out the window. Fox News followed suit. It was created to support conservative, Right Wing views through its media stars such as Sean Hannity and that’s that. The only place “fair” appeared was on its now defunct marketing slogan, which surely must have been created tongue in cheek.
And The Left are no better. (I hate using “labels” sorry)
The hysterical and incessant and nonsensical Russiagate attacks by MSNBC media stars such as Rachel Maddow were quite simply beyond belief.
And now all sides are beating upon China in a similar vein.
But audiences love these grotesque approaches to communication and at least Fox and MSNBC include some sort of dark humor or sarcasm in their shows as they go about the trashing of their supposed arch enemy media foes. (I say “supposed” because they are all probably great friends behind the scenes – trash talk is just their highly lucrative day job).
“Neutral” CNN is populated by cardboard cutouts, sprinkled with glitter. Their main presentors are so stiff and arrogant and serious – they look like they have large toilet brushes inserted up their rear orifice. They hardly merit mentioning at all. Occasionally we get to hear from Darth Vader, the only enjoyable thing CNN has to offer.
But in fact, it is essential to view all of these outlets from time to time, for the same reason that I view media outlets both public and private, both western and non western, both media giants and small citizen journalist outfits. To get balance.
It is difficult to be agenda free. We all have one somewhere. I have one writing this blog. You will read things in one of these media categories that another media outlet will never tell you, as all media outlets have an agenda as well.
That is why I check out claims or things that sound dubious from several different types of media organizations, and not just from another outlet of the same type, whether they be “left” or “right”.
In rare cases, War being one, the mainstream media almost across the entire political spectrum step in unison.
And that is just not fair at all.
Part 2 of this post will deal with the other fatal blow to the American media – President Clinton’s 1996 Telecommunications Act.