Are We Better Off Without the Fairness Doctrine?

August 23rd, 2011, by

"The devolution of the American press began in 1986 when Ronald Reagan abolished the Fairness Doctrine," Kennedy says.

When FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski eliminated the Fairness Doctrine along with 82 other “outdated media rules” this week, he was getting rid of a rule that had not been enforced in more than 20 years, even though there were recent calls to resurrect it.

Under the Reagan administration, the FCC killed the Fairness Doctrine (in 1987), doing away with a policy — put in place in 1949 — that required broadcasters to cover controversial issues of public importance and offer contrasting viewpoints on those issues.

“The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago,” the Chairman said in the Commission’s press release. “I am pleased we are removing these and other obsolete rules from our books.”

The Fairness Doctrine has been a controversial policy, and there is debate on whether the American media landscape hasn’t suffered from its elimination.

Recently on our program, environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. had this to say about the Fairness Doctrine:

“The devolution of the American press began in 1986 when Ronald Reagan abolished the Fairness Doctrine.

We had a law in this country that we passed in 1928 that said that the air waves belong to the public. The broadcasters can be licensed to use them, but only if they use them to promote the public interest, to inform the public and advance democracy. That’s why we have the 6 o’clock news. They didn’t want it. The broadcasters didn’t want that because the news departments were chronic money losers.

But they were forced to put on the news at 6:00 and even today you hear news on the music radio stations and that’s an artifact of the Fairness Doctrine. They said, if you’re using the broadcast air waves, you have to do that…

They no longer have an obligation to serve the public interest. Their only obligation is to their shareholders. They serve that obligation not by informing us, telling us the things we need to understand to make rational decisions in a democracy, but rather by entertaining us...

We know we’re the best entertained, the least informed, people on the face of the world. They got rid of their investigative reporters. 85 percent of them lost their jobs in the last 15 years.

They got rid of their foreign news bureaus so the Bush and Cheney administration can say to the American people, ‘Oh, we’re gonna go into this 800-year-old fist fight in Mesopotamia and they’re gonna meet us with rose petals in the streets’ and the Americans believe them.
The Canadians didn’t believe them because the Canadians still have a Fairness Doctrine…

England has the same kind of rules and in Europe, but in our country, we lost those rules and, as a result, we know a lot about Britney Spears’ gradual emotional decline and we know a lot about Charlie Sheen, but we don’t know much about global warming or the fact that the Appalachian Mountains essentially no longer exist.”

What do you think? Are we better off without this media policy or has our democracy suffered from its elimination? Share your thoughts below.

  • Quinn

    I could not agree more with the assessment of this article. We as a country are getting dumper and more misinformed by the day. In time I have begun to understand polictics, more I am disillusion by the whole process, it’s a con. Money drives everything in this country and everything is for sell, from the President to the local school board officials. George Carlin said it best “there is no real choice in America, only the illusion of choice”. The laws that gave the middle class a voice and fighting chance to participate in the American Policital process are eroding before our eyes. “Freedom of the press” is no longer viable. Sadly, I only see corporations’ greed influence and corrupt the American way and drag this country into third world status.

  • Donna Martin

    I wanted to comment on this very important issue, but reading the first comment I realized I could not say it better. It is very sad what has happened to our news. I would like to say though, I believe Ronald Reagan did more harm to this country, the middle- class and the disabeled than anyone in his position before him. I can not believe that people actually hold him up as some sort of iconic hero. I guess they get away with it because no one tells the truth any more. It is not only an illusion of choice we now have in this country; the “American Dream” has become an illusion. The American people are living in illusion, they are seeing the world through rose colored glasses. What is it going to take for them to wake up? Their rights are disappearing and they don’t even realize it.

  • Marion Williamson

    The fairness doctrine was put in place to keep one group of people or one person from , in effect owning the airwaves so that the only viewpoint that could be heard would be theirs. They could speak as they wished about a presidential candidate and no other opinion about this same candidate would be heard. Lying would be rampant and the “truth” would be only as they told it. If this is not put back like it was you will soon be under the control of the most powerful dictator this world has ever seen. You will go where you are told to go, when to go and what to do when you arrive. That is if you are allowed to travel at all, which seems doubtful. This must be squashed and right now.

  • Manuel Dayenian, Generation-X

    Let us NOT forget that though it was President Reagan’s administration that stopped the Fairness Doctrine, both President Clinton and President Obama have refused to reactivate the Fairness Doctrine, with said doctrine “removed” by President Obama’s administration.

    For the record, I support the reactivation of the Fairness Doctrine as well as reactivations of our tariff system (STOP free trade NOW!), Depression Era regulations that served our Nation and the American people well, and the tax system that existed before President Reagan changed the system to work for the 1% (including transnational corporations) and against the 99% (American middle-class…).

  • ph16

    The Fairness Doctrine may have made sense at a time when there were fewer outlets for ideas to be shared. But now with the internet, cable, books, and outlets for information and opinion, it’s obsolete. I would hate to see ideas regulated under the government and have it decide which ideas need regulating.

  • Juan P

    If government does not have some regulations the corporate interest will.
    I trust government regulation but only in a working democracy.

Last modified: September 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm