The death of the Fairness Doctrine and the rise of HOA-Land media bias

Those of you who have followed me for some time will have run across my criticism of the media[1]  for failing to honor the trust placed in it by the First Amendment to the Constitution — free speech.

“Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . ..”

What’s this Fairness Doctrine, you may ask?

For over 30 years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) required broadcast licensees (TV and radio) to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was fair and balanced. This requirement came to be known as the “Fairness Doctrine.”[2]

The FCC believed that broadcast licenses (required for both radio and terrestrial TV stations) were a form of public trust and, as such, licensees should provide balanced and fair coverage of controversial issues . . .. The “public interest” justification for the fairness doctrine is outlined in Section 315 of the Communications Act of 1937 (amended in 1959).[3]

In “What Is The Fairness Doctrine?”, author Gill quotes the Court in Red Lion v. FCC,[4]

It is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral and other ideas and experiences which is crucial here. That right may not constitutionally be abridged either by Congress or by the FCC.

The death of Fairness

Subsequent to the 1969 Supreme Court ruling in Red Lion, things turned down for equal opportunity to reply.  Further court rulings and the resultant FCC dismissal of the Doctrine sealed its application. President Reagan, in an astounding rejection of free speech for the advancement of public issues as a necessity for a democracy to properly function, vetoed legislation with the following justification:

“This type of content-based regulation by the federal government is, in my judgment, antagonistic to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Reagan said in his veto message. In any other medium besides broadcasting, such federal policing of the editorial judgment of journalists would be unthinkable.[5]

Understanding that Reagan was in the entertainment and media business, no wonder he turned the First Amendment on its head.  He tossed out the intent and purposes of the Founding Fathers who saw the necessity of open dialogue in a healthy democracy. By his veto he allowed business interests to redefine the compelling government interest set forth by the Founding Fathers to protect the Constitution.

The court rulings and the FCC reaction faced with the above reality, can be summarized by the 1989 DC District Court ruling (final ruling in Syracuse Peace Council v FCC) holding,

On the basis of the voluminous factual record compiled in this proceeding, our experience in administering the doctrine and our general expertise in broadcast regulation, we no longer believe that the fairness doctrine, as a matter of policy, serves the public interest …[6]

 

In summary, no longer must the media honor the original trust given to it under the First Amendment.  It no longer needs to present both sides of the story for an informed electorate, an informed public.  It can, as profusely evident, present its own view of the “facts” as we witness conservative vs liberal, Democrat vs. Republican, the rich vs the middle class, white vs black, etc., etc.  As one media guest put it, America has become tribal with one faction opposing another faction.

And these attacks upon our American system of democratic government have trickled down to HOA-Land where they have been adopted by the media, undoubtedly influenced by the special interest promotors of HOA-Land.  And so, the public, the readers and viewers of HOA “news,” get half-truths that do not serve the fundamental requirement of a democracy to inform the public.

 

References

[1] See in general, HOA-Land success aided by the failure of investigative reporting (2017)  Arizona Republic: A new low in media ethics and a violation of the public trust.’ (2007); Continued national HOA problems and the failure of the media; (2007).

[2]Fairness Doctrine: History and Constitutional Issues,” Kathleen Ann Ruane, Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, p. 1, July 13, 2011.

[3]What Is The Fairness Doctrine?”, Kathy Gill, ThoughtCo., May 23, 2017.

[4] Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission, 395 U.S. 367 (1969).

[5]Reagan’s Veto Kills Fairness Doctrine Bill,” Penny Pagano, L. A. Times, June 21, 1987.

[6] Supra, n. 3.