Fairness Doctrine: "A Chilling Effect"

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), in an interview on the Lou Dobbs Show (1-20-2007), discussed his interest in reinstating the Fairness Doctrine (dissolved by the Federal Communications Commission in August 1985). Kucinich posed this question:

“How in the world did we end up in this war in Iraq?” One study said that only three news sources who opposed the war were able to get on the air, out of 393 in the study. What does that say? Was there an uninhibited exchange of ideas?”

No reference to what or which study was given – and Dobbs did not inquire.

A background article from The Museum of Broadcast Communications says this on page two, regarding the dissolution of the Fairness Doctrine by The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in August 1985:

“The doctrine, nevertheless, disturbed many journalists, who considered it a violation of First Amendment rights of free speech/free press which should allow reporters to make their own decisions about balancing stories. Fairness, in this view, should not be forced by the FCC. In order to avoid the requirement to go out and find contrasting viewpoints on every issue raised in a story, some journalists simply avoided any coverage of some controversial issues. This “chilling effect” was just the opposite of what the FCC intended.

By the 1980s, many things had changed. The “scarcity” argument which dictated the “public trustee” philosophy of the Commission, was disappearing with the abundant number of channels available on cable TV. Without scarcity, or with many other voices in the marketplace of ideas, there were perhaps fewer compelling reasons to keep the fairness doctrine. This was also the era of deregulation when the FCC took on a different attitude about its many rules, seen as an unnecessary burden by most stations. The new Chairman of the FCC, Mark Fowler, appointed by President Reagan, publicly avowed to kill to fairness doctrine.

By 1985, the FCC issued its Fairness Report, asserting that the doctrine was no longer having its intended effect, might actually have a “chilling effect” and might be in violation of the First Amendment. In a 1987 case, Meredith Corp. v. FCC, the courts declared that the doctrine was not mandated by Congress and the FCC did not have to continue to enforce it.” To read the entire document by Val E. Limburg and to find a reading list, go here.

Eight years after the dissolution, Adam Thierer, writing for The Heritage Foundation, discusses “Why the Fairness Doctrine is Anything but Fair.” To read the entire article, and especially Thierer’s last paragraph, the Simple Solution, go here.

For a more current take on both sides of the issue, Fred Lucas of the CSNNews.com posts Democrats’ New ‘Fairness” Push May Silence Conservative Radio Hosts, Critics Say. Then for a livelier and more current view (1-17-2007), with a focus on internet regulations (or the lack of them), check-out The Only Republican in San Francisco.

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