So long to a relic: The Fairness Doctrine
Regulation required stations to present opposing views
August 23, 2011
Twenty-four years after the Federal Communications Commission stopped enforcing it, the Fairness Doctrine is finally being struck from the agency’s book of regulations.
The FCC said yesterday that it will eliminate the controversial law, which was instituted in 1949 to ensure that all broadcasters gave equal time to differing political viewpoints, as part of a greater agency housecleaning that will strike down a total of 83 other little-enforced rules.
The Fairness Doctrine made sense, at least in theory, when it was introduced during the Harry Truman era. Back then there were fewer media outlets, and a lot of areas of the country, as well as big cities, were dominated by political machines that often exercised their power to stifle dissent.
Regulators wanted to ensure that listeners and viewers were exposed to a balanced range of political views instead of just one.
In practice, however, the Fairness Doctrine put a chill on political coverage. In the early years stations were reluctant to allow political talk of any sort for fear they would not present enough balance to satisfy government regulators.
As the media world matured, and viewpoints on the left and right became plentiful on news talk shows, as well as cable outlets such as Fox News Channel and MSNBC, the rule seemed more and more antiquated.
Though it stayed on the books, the FCC stopped enforcing it in 1987.
That did not stop some from attempting to have it enforced.
Occasionally someone on the left or right would call upon the FCC to step in, typically when their opponents were seen to be getting more coverage than they thought they deserved.
For example, a few years back, Democrats pressed the FCC to look into the plethora of right-leaning radio talk shows on stations that did not present a similar left-leaning option.
But those requests never resulted in an actual investigation, and earlier this summer FCC chairman Julius Genachowski told Congress that he intended to get rid of the rule.
It won’t be officially stricken from the books for several weeks, however. The FCC has to publish a notice in the Federal Register first.
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