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I Am The Anti-Cheney

Thursday, May 18, 2006

First in a Series:The Fairness Doctrine and What Happened That Allowed Rush Limbaugh to Destroy the Country

Here's a start to a series I plan do to explaing the Fairness Doctrine--how it came in to being and why, and how the corporate world decided to dump it and take over the media for their own purposes.

Broadcasting Fairness Doctrine Promised Balanced Coverage
WASHINGTON, DC -- The passing of media ownership into fewer hands, the potential for conflicts of interests, and the virtual exclusion of significant opposing viewpoints are good reasons to reevaluate the broadcasting Fairness Doctrine, and it's potential for obtaining more balanced coverage of Islam and Muslims.
The Fairness Doctrine from 1949 until 1987, when it was discontinued by the Federal Communications Commission, required broadcasters, as a condition of getting their licenses from the FCC, to cover controversial issues in their community, and to do so by offering some balancing views. It did not require equal time for opposing views. It merely prevented a station from day after day presenting a single view without airing opposing views.

The fairness doctrine's constitutionality was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1969 case, Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC (395 U.S. 367). The Court ruled that it did not violate a broadcaster's First Amendment rights. Five years later, however, in Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo (418 U.S. 241), without ruling the doctrine unconstitutional, the Court concluded that the doctrine "inescapably dampens the vigor and limits the variety of public debate". In 1984, the Court concluded that the scarcity rationale underlying the doctrine was flawed and that the doctrine was limiting the breadth of public debate (FCC v. League of Women Voters, 468 U.S. 364).

The Court's decision led to the FCC reevaluation and discontinuance of the Fairness Doctrine. The FCC stated: "We no longer believe that the Fairness Doctrine, as a matter of policy, serves the public interests. In making this determination, we do not question the interest of the listening and viewing public in obtaining access to diverse and antagonistic sources of information. Rather, we conclude that the Fairness Doctrine is no longer a necessary or appropriate means by which to effectuate this interest. We believe that the interest of the public in viewpoint diversity is fully served by the multiplicity of voices in the marketplace today and that the intrusion by government into the content of programming occasioned by the enforcement of the doctrine unnecessarily restricts the journalistic freedom of broadcasters. Furthermore, we find that the Fairness Doctrine, in operation actually inhibits the presentation of controversial issues of public importance to the detriment of the public and in degradation of the editorial prerogative of broadcast journalists."

In 1987 a bill to place the Fairness Doctrine into federal law passed the House by 3 to 1, and the Senate by nearly 2 to 1, but it was vetoed by President Ronald Reagan. Among those voting for the bill were Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). In 1989 the Fairness Doctrine easily passed the House again, but didn't proceed further as President George Bush threatened to veto it. In 1991, hearings were again held on the doctrine, but President Bush's ongoing veto threat stymied passage.

Then the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was assigned the responsibility to: "facilitate the full development of public telecommunications in which programs of high quality, diversity, creativity, excellence, and innovation, which are obtained from diverse sources, will be made available to public telecommunications entities, with strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature." The "Fairness in Broadcasting Act of 1993" was sponsored in the Senate (S. 333) by Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), and in the House (H.R. 1985) by Bill Hefner (D-N.C.).

Opponents of the Fairness Doctrine have included New York Governor Mario Cuomo, and broadcaster Rush Limbaugh. Cuomo argued that, "Precisely because radio and TV have become our principal sources of news and information, we should accord broadcasters the utmost freedom in order to insure a truly free press." Limbaugh argued that there should be no government fairness standards on broadcasters, since there are none on the print press.

Others, such as columnist Jeff Cohen, say these arguments miss the key difference: If you set up your competing broadcast station next to a Limbaugh station on the radio dial, without acquiring a government license, you will be prosecuted. Broadcast frequencies are limited, and they belong to all Americans. Furthermore, says Enver Masud, Director of The Wisdom Fund and a strong supporter of free speech, "Freedom of speech has its limits. Even in a theater, one does not have the right to yell 'fire' when there is no fire."

Since these attempts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, media ownership has passed into fewer and fewer hands. Mark Crispin Miller, professor of Film and Media Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, has written extensively on the media and the increasing concentration of ownership of media companies in the United States. Miller has created charts that trace the holdings of four major conglomerates: Time Warner, Disney/Cap Cities, General Electric, and Westinghouse. Each of these conglomerates owns a news network, CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS, respectively. And not only do they own news networks, but also radio stations, magazines, cable TV, motion pictures, music, and newspapers. Furthermore, the (non-media) holdings of these conglomerates create "alarming conflicts of interests" says Miller.

Lastly, diverse opposing voices are virtually excluded from major TV networks. Among these are prominent speakers such as former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, the prolific writer Noam Chomsky, the militant National Alliance, and Muslims who by the year 2000 will constitute America's second largest religion -- Islam.

More recently the Broadcasting Act of 1996 establishes the Broadcasting Standards Commission. In effect, this merges the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, creating a single forum for public concerns relating to the portrayal of sex and violence and matters of taste and decency in television and radio programmes, as well as unjust and unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy by broadcasters.

The reasons that led to the demise of the Fairness Doctrine no longer exist. Perhaps it's time to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine.


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