Rush, from the DittoCam
*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 7/12/2007
*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 7/12/2007
Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Recently, the rumblings of support for the so-called “fairness doctrine” have begun to surface. The goal, according to the proponents, is to somehow legislate into existence some kind of counter to the 900-pound gorilla known as conservative talk radio. Air America Radio was intended to be that agent of balance, but despite the infusion of millions of George Soros money and the Star Power of Al Franken, it has been unable to gain nationwide traction with listeners or advertisers. AAR has lost several stations and last October filed for bankruptcy.
Faced with this failure and the continuing strong growth of conservative talkers like Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, and Savage, progressives seem intent on legislating what the free market failed to deliver.
The Fairness Doctrine was adopted by the FCC in 1949 in a time when frequencies were limited and the Commission was being flooded by license requests for new stations. In 1949, media outlets were considered “public trustees,” instead of private businesses. As the Museum of Broadcast Communications explains, “…broadcasters should make sure they did not use their stations simply as advocates with a singular perspective. Rather, they must allow all points of view. That requirement was to be enforced by FCC mandate.” (http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/F/htmlF/fairnessdoct/fairnessdoct.htm)
The doctrine was swept away in the flood of federal deregulation instituted by President Ronald Reagan. Within a few years, it became apparent that the cries of conservatives who felt their point of view wasn’t fairly represented by what they termed “The Main Stream Media” were legitimate. Conservative talkers began cropping up, most notably Rush Limbaugh, and saw their market share and popularity explode. That genre fuelled a resurgence in conservative political activity and many analysts point to that influence as being directly responsible for the Republicans gaining control of both houses of congress in 1994, for the first time in 40 years.
Liberals saw quickly that talk radio could move political mountains, and Democrat party officials strove mightily to carve out their own electronic beachhead, an effort that has largely failed.
Now, Democrat political leaders have begun to campaign for fairness legislation with a growing fervor. As this movement begins to catch momentum, it is apparent that the supporters are moving forward in ignorance of the inexorable effects of the “law of unintended consequences.” Defined by Rob Norton of The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/UnintendedConsequences.html) as “…actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or "unintended."
In this case, while supporters are convinced that this move will level the playing field, and perhaps eliminate these vexing influences, they are also ignorant of the other effects such a doctrine would impose. For example...
-- National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System will be required to surrender 12 hours of their programming day to programs favorable to conservative issues.
-- Journalists will be required to identify both sides of a given issue in the lead paragraphs of their stories. Front page space will be halved, in order to ensure lawful reporting of both points of view.
-- In schools, conservatives could use the fairness doctrine to force equal-time discussions on matters such as intelligent design, and the sizeable amount of research identifying climate change as an effect of the dynamic forces of nature, rather than blaming the whole thing on "rich republicans."
-- College campuses would be required to allow conservative speakers in the same numbers as those espousing progressive points of view. And students would not be allowed to protest their presence.
-- Government research grants would have to be evenly distributed among researchers, meaning anthropogenic global warming advocates would be forced by law to share those monies with those individuals and groups performing contrary research. And the media would be forced by law to equally report the results of such research.
So you see, the imposition of a fairness doctrine works both ways. People need to think long and hard about the real results before legislating an artificially level playing field.