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When FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski eliminated the Fairness Doctrine along with 82 other “outdated media rules” this week, he was getting rid of a rule that had not been enforced in more than 20 years, even though there were recent calls to resurrect it.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

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