Aspects of the 'Fairness Doctrine' You Won't See or Hear in Press Coverage

A 1993 Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum made points (HT to Jay Ott at Maggie Thurber's blog) that have seldom been made in media discussions, like this really weak front-page article a week ago at the Toledo Blade, about reinstating the so-called Fairness Doctrine. The Blade's Kirk Baird and Rod Lockwood seem to act as if radio is the only communications medium in existence.

Heritage's points are even more valid today than they were 16 years ago.

At the time, which "so happened" to be the first year of the last Democratic administration, there was legislation in Congress called the "Fairness in Broadcasting Act of 1993" that would have restored the doctrine, which had been overturned by the Federal Communications Commission in 1987.

Here are the three faulty premises highlighted by Heritage's Adam Thierer, followed by why they are even more faulty now:

Faulty Premise #1: The "scarce" amount of spectrum space requires oversight by federal regulators.

Reality: Although the spectrum is limited, the number of broadcasters in America has continuously increased.

There are exponentially more outlets now. Anyone can start a blog or an Internet radio station, spout off at MySpace or Facebook, or tweet away on Twitter. Whether that person's opinions are worth heeding depends on the content of what they have to say, how hard they work (sorry, libs) to get it out there, and a bit of luck.

Faulty Premise #2: "Fairness" or "fair access" is best determined by FCC authorities.

Reality: FCC bureaucrats can neither determine what is "fair" nor enforce it.

They're even less capable of determining fairness now than they were before blogs, Internet broadcasting, satellite radio, and other media came along. Will eveyone who expresses a conservative thought on Twitter have to allot 140 characters to a liberal, and vice-versa?

Faulty Premise #3: The fairness doctrine guarantees that more opinions will be aired.

Reality: Arbitrary enforcement of the fairness doctrine will diminish vigorous debate.

No, it would lead to relentless harassment of those who express controversial views. It would go in both directions. Radio stations would abandon talk because it's too much hassle. If the Fairness Doctrine were extended to blogs (which has been mentioned from time to time), bloggers would avoid political opinion rather than hand their bandwidth over to the opposite view.

Beyond that, all of this assumes that there are somehow only two sides to every issue, which is clearly naive.

Again, note that it's all about radio, and only about radio. Heaven forbid that Fairness Doctrine standards get applied to say, the TV networks, or newspapers, or that the AP be forced to publish offsets of the opinions they disguise as reporting.

Anyway, if you haven't heard these points raised in media coverage of those attempting to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine, it's largely because most of the press doesn't want you to hear them.

Cross-posted at

Congress Political Groups Economy Media Bias Debate Censorship Fairness Doctrine Heritage Foundation Bias by Omission