Fraudulant Fairness?

George Will is rapidly becoming an angry, strident voice on the conservative side of conservative politics. Now he is using name calling as a weapon against the Democratic Party. His use of the term "illiberals" over and over in his latest rant against liberals is almost funny...almost.
Some illiberal liberals are trying to restore the luridly misnamed Fairness Doctrine, which until 1987 required broadcasters to devote a reasonable amount of time to presenting fairly each side of a controversial issue. The government was empowered to decide how many sides there were, how much time was reasonable and what was fair.
I hate to break it to Mr Will, but the only reason anyone wants to re-institute the "Fairness Doctrine" is that the "Corporate Media" has abrogated the truthful reporting of the facts. The very ability of political groups to drop a smear with an add buy and then watch the story grow as the "News" is reported so often as to turn a lie into the accepted truth shows the need for "Media" to be held to a monetary responsibility for the "Fairness" they no longer feel.
The Reagan administration scrapped the doctrine because of its chilling effect on controversial speech, and because the scarcity rationale was becoming absurd.
It seems to me that the scarcity rationale has now swung full circle. With the media consolidation of the past few years, the publics access to get their voice heard is confined to the internet and not the "Public" airways or the newsprint of the cities of this country. Not everyone in this country has access nor the need to subscribe to multiple forms of information. The broadcast spectrum has, since it's inception, been a special category of business. Access to spectrum has always been confined to a limited number of gatekeepers, and the "Fairness Doctrine" is all that kept the publics ability to gain the access to present opposing views.
It is time to take another look at all of the rules that have been relaxed in this mad rush to deregulate America.

Source: Newsweek
Author: George F. Will


Nolan said...

Gary, I do some consulting with the NAB and while I promise not to the use George Will's description of those supporting the reinstitution of the fairness doctrine, I too disagree that we need to take such a measure.

While I understand your concern, IMO reinstituting the doctrine is unnecessary and ill advised. As was mentioned it was unfair pre-1987 as it only applied to broadcasters and as has been documented it led them to avoid discussing controversial topics rather than risk complaints that all sides of an issue had not been covered. Translate those issues to toady's media market and the argument against the doctrine is amplified.

IMO you are underestimating the growing influence of online media, citizen journalism, social networking and the large online companies. Additionally, there are sign of media deconsolidation in TV and radio. For example,

"Clear Channel is selling its TV stations and one-third of its radio stations. The New York Times sold its TV stations. The Knight Ridder newspaper chain dissolved. Tribune sold TV stations and may yet be broken up. Walt Disney sold its radio stations. Emmis Communications sold its TV stations. Wave after wave of deconsolidation."

Again, I understand your concerns but given the dramatic changes and seemingly unlimited options we have to get our news and information, we don't need the fairness doctrine. Thanks.

gary said...

Nolan, I see you are not understanding my argument. As far as I am concerned the broadcasters who have the license to use the Publicly owned spectrum are in a separate category from all of your examples. If your broadcasters want to buy a cable network, they are welcome to it. If they want to utilize the internet to publish, fine. But like the oil companies who lease public land, they have obligations to the public. One of the obligations they have is to provide an unbiased account of the news, or get out of the news business. But, if they wish to provide a space for the exchange of ideas they need to provide for the hearing of both sides.

You continue to compare broadcasters with other forms of communication. I am sure that the broadcasters you consult with prefer this type of comparison as it doesn't require the that they fulfill what was once (and most of the public thinks still) their public duties for the priveledge of using a limited (and yes the "Broadcast" spectrum is still limited) public resource.

That seems to be the main idea that the NAB is trying to change. That the broadcast spectrum is a public not private resource and has been since the first licenses were issued and unless the current administration changes the rules will still be for the foreseeable future.

As for the selling of resources you quote, weren't some of these companies out of compliance with existing laws in anticipation of changes, they had lobbied for, being put in place? And sadly, the dissolution of Knight Ridder is the type of change that does not improve the state of the information flow in the country.

Thanks for the discussion.

Nolan said...

Gary, likewise thanks for your reply.

I recognize and understand your argument differentiating broadcasters from "new media" outlets. Nobody is trying to change the perception that broadcasters serve the public interest although there may be differing opinions on how best to achieve this goal.

Also, IMO broadcasters, overall, present unbiased news and distinguish between news and opinion/commentary contributions. However, in reinstituting the "fairness doctrine" who decides that all sides of an issue are covered, as there can be many more than just two sides? This would result, as before, in broadcasters avoiding the more controversial topics.

I'll reiterate what I believe is the importance of online media. Today anyone can get their news custom tailored to their exact preferences, an option that wasn't available pre-1987 or even five years ago. For broadcasters to retain viewers/listeners they will have to continue providing high quality programming that appeals to their local audiences. Thus I don't believe the doctrine is needed.


gary said...

Nolan, I agree that there are probably wildly differing opinions on what constitutes "serving the public interest", which is why I feel having the "doctrine" codified works to every ones benefit in the long run.

I find I have to disagree with you on the broadcasters presenting unbiased news and their ability to differentiate what is opinion and what is news. I have never quite figured out what constitutes "fair and balanced" from News Corp. And though I've always none that The Wall Street Journals Editorial Board has a conservative bias, I've trusted the rest of the paper to present good investigative news stories. I have always found it amusing when the Editorial Board chooses to contradict their own news reporters. That is one reason I find the news from yesterday that News Corp wants to buy the Journal very disturbing. Real journalism is rapidly being lost around the country as more and more reporters are being replaced by pundits.

While I agree with you on the importance of online news, not every one in this country has the ability or the inclination to get their news online. Nor does everyone have the ability to know who online is presenting a news story and who is presenting a smear with no facts.

I personally am not sure that the custom tailored news is a good thing. Without the dialog of different ideas there is no chance for the general public to hear that dissenting view. I am afraid that is where we are heading, everyone listening to only the voices that parrot their own ideas. I already find myself going out of my way to avoid Fox News, I don't want to find myself avoiding all broadcast media because of the one sidedness of their view. Again, thanks for sharing your views.

Nolan said...

Gary, apparently we will have to agree to disagree on the doctrine. IMO our local broadcasters understand that they must provide programming that meets the needs and wants of their viewers, including providing differing views on issues. A one size fits all regulation such as this isn't in the best interest of everyone.

Whether customized news is a good thing or not is an interesting question. You are probably right that people will seek out outlets that merely reinforce their preconceived views. This actually speaks to the problem of having a mandated "fairness" doctrine as everyone these days finds seems to scream bias at every single word spoken on TV or radio.

Also, you may find this interesting, I cited a piece by Adam Thierer in my first comment, and here is his most recent entry, part of an ongoing, series chronicling the deconsolidation trend. This time he details Clear Channels moves to sell of many of its TV and radio stations.

Thanks and have a great weekend.

gary said...

Nolan, You are right...We will never agree on this issue. It is probably my inherent distrust of the "Corporate Citizen", even those in the broadcast industry.

But I enjoyed the discussion. Come by anytime you want to have a go at changing this old mind...

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