People sometimes ask me “Mitch, how does the “Fairness Doctrine” work?”
And I respond “Very badly, if real-life experience counts for anything”.
While the notional idea behind the doctrine is to force “balance” in programming, it really works one of two ways:
- As it did with about 90% of talk stations before 1987 – by eschewing political or remotely controversial talk, or…
- …as in the example linked above, mixing conservative and liberal programming. Which fails because the liberal programming (as well as some of the conservative shows in the example above) is pretty dreadful, unmarketable stuff.
There’s a huge concern among conservative talk radio hosts that reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine would all-but destroy the industry due to equal time constraints. But speech limits might not stop at radio. They could even be extended to include the Internet and “government dictating content policy.”
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell raised that as a possibility after talking with bloggers at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. McDowell spoke about a recent FCC vote to bar Comcast from engaging in certain Internet practices – expanding the federal agency’s oversight of Internet networks.
The commissioner, a 2006 President Bush appointee, told the Business & Media Institute the Fairness Doctrine could be intertwined with the net neutrality battle. The result might end with the government regulating content on the Web, he warned. McDowell, who was against reprimanding Comcast, said the net neutrality effort could win the support of “a few isolated conservatives” who may not fully realize the long-term effects of government regulation.
They’re going to have to smart up mighty fast.
“I think the fear is that somehow large corporations will censor their content, their points of view, right,” McDowell said. “I think the bigger concern for them should be if you have government dictating content policy, which by the way would have a big First Amendment problem.”
“Then, whoever is in charge of government is going to determine what is fair, under a so-called ‘Fairness Doctrine,’ which won’t be called that – it’ll be called something else,” McDowell said. “So, will Web sites, will bloggers have to give equal time or equal space on their Web site to opposing views rather than letting the marketplace of ideas determine that?”
On the one hand, it sounds stretchy. On the other hand, liberals have been unable to make the faintest dent in talk radio, and their strength on blogs is largely on hive sites heavily supported by the likes of George Soros and his various sockpuppet non-profits; surely they would like to save a buck or two and have government, especially an Obama government heavily in their debt, to “level the playing field” for them.
“The Fairness Doctrine has not been raised at the FCC, but the importance of this election is in part – has something to do with that,” McDowell said. “So you know, this election, if it goes one way, we could see a re-imposition of the Fairness Doctrine. There is a discussion of it in Congress. I think it won’t be called the Fairness Doctrine by folks who are promoting it. I think it will be called something else and I think it’ll be intertwined into the net neutrality debate.”
The other “rationales” for the “Fairness” Doctrine – scarcity of media (in a world where it takes two minutes to start a blog, and digital radio is about to explode the number of frequencies available), corporate censorship of liberal views (which explains why a black maria came for Keith Olberman and why Bill Maher is breaking rocks on a chain gang in Mississippi) and public interest (in a world where media of all types are orders of magnitude more ubiquitous than they were 21 years ago) – don’t stand up to even silly scrutiny.
So I guess the order of business is to figure out which leftybloggers I have to add to the staff to balance out Roosh and I.
Given the quality of leftyblog writing in this town, I’ll probably have to make it like five or six of ’em.