Now that Democrats are about to enjoy a near-majority in the senate, the usual suspects are waxing eloquent about the need for resurrecting the so-called “Fairness” Doctrine for broadcasters, otherwise known as the “Stifling of Free Speech” Doctrine. Proponents claim the long-dead provision should be brought back to provide “balance” to the airwaves.
Unfortunately, removing the wooden stake from the heart of this measure would result only in the elimination of all discussion about any controversial issue on Radio and (to a lesser extent) TV.
During the 1970’s, our stations, chained by the requirements of “fairness”, simply eliminated all contoversial talk and substituted music. With a small staff, it was not possible for us to adequately handle rebuttals to issues raised on our stations. This was a chilling of free speech, not “fairness”.
The one and only purpose of the “Fairness” Doctrine is the stifling of dissent. Period.
Back in the ’70’s, usually only a single group might oppose a stated viewpoint and request “equal” time for a rebuttal. Today, there are hundreds. The nightmare that would result from reinstating this flawed scheme would sign the death warrant for AM Radio.
Imagine if your station carried a discussion on abortion in which the viewpoint was pro-life. Now come demands for time by NOW, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and more, each wanting “equal time” to air their views. It’s a can of worms that no station wants to open.
Legal scholars claim the doctrine will not be restored and even if it is it would not withstand a First Amendment challenge at the Supreme Court. I’m not so sanguine about a court decision striking it down. One can get better odds in Las Vegas.
With all the other problems it faces, Radio does not need a return to the bad old days of the “Fairness” Doctrine. That idea is dead, and should stay that way.
Let all issues be discussed, without restriction. That’s more than fair—it’s the American way.