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‘Fairness’ Doctrine is a muzzle

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Liberals tout themselves as progressive and open-minded. But just how tolerant of opposing viewpoints are they? We are likely to find out in the not-too-distant future.

In recent months there are been calls from some on the left to bring back the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.”

Introduced in 1949, the doctrine was a policy of the Federal Communications Commission that required broadcasters to give equal time to both sides of an issue — in other words, all points of view — when discussing controversial topics. In 1985, the FCC began to repeal certain parts of the Fairness Doctrine believing the doctrine was not in the public’s best interest and that it also violated the First Amendment. The FCC abolished the doctrine altogether in 1987, a decision that was upheld by a federal appeals court.

In repealing the doctrine the FCC said in part, “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.”

In its repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC intimated that the doctrine was instituted at a time when broadcast voices were few in number. However, with the proliferation of broadcasters and numerous media voices the Fairness Doctrine was no longer needed.

It is clear that at least some liberal politicians do not agree with the FCC’s argument. Recently Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated their support for reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine.

When these liberal lawmakers are pressed as to why they would like to see the Fairness Doctrine revived, they parrot the same response. They say that they want the public airwaves to be fair and balanced, insinuating that at present they are not.

Currently, the free market of ideas and economics determines the news and information presented on radio and television stations. Many would argue that much of what makes up the so-called mainstream media leans decidedly liberal. And there is no disputing that conservative voices dominate talk radio. Toss in the information available via the Internet and you have a plethora of news sources offering a variety of perspectives.

While radio and television stations are outlets for news, they are also businesses. They must make a profit to stay viable. Thus, ratings and market share are important. Thus, a station’s listeners or viewers do help to determine content.

The main burr under the liberal saddle in reference to the Fairness Doctrine is talk radio. The medium is dominated by conservative voices who routinely oppose Democrat ideas and liberal legislation. As a result, most liberal legislatures don’t even try to hide their disdain for conservative talk radio.

If the Fairness Doctrine is reinstated, how will it impact religious radio, which has boomed since the 1980s? Will Christian stations be able to remain, well, Christian?

Not liking the content of talk radio is certainly not reason enough to invoke the Fairness Doctrine. In fact, one could argue that the 2008 Election is proof positive that the Fairness Doctrine is not needed.

Taking a look at the results of the recent election reveals that Democrats and liberals won. The Democrats not only won the White House but picked up seats in the House and Senate. And there are still three Senate seats yet to be decided. If the Democrats win them, they will possess a super-majority in the Senate.

The most recent election indicates that the Democrats have been successful without the Fairness Doctrine. So why is it that so many liberal legislatures want to bring it back? One reason: they don’t want to deal with any dissent. Liberal-leaning lawmakers do not want to have to contend with any criticism of their ideas or policies. If nothing else, they want the illusion of total public support of their whacked-out legislation.

In today’s cultural and political climate liberal tolerance is an oxymoron. The Democrats could go a long way in changing that perception. By leaving the Fairness Doctrine defunct, they will insure an open discussion in the free market of ideas. And that would be a good thing for our republic.

Just how liberal minded and tolerant are leaders in Congress? We are about to find out by what they decide to do with the so-called Fairness Doctrine.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs