Vote down Fairness Doctrine

A bill going through Congress looks to reassert the Fairness Doctrine, but Obama doesn’t support it.

Enacted in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine mandated that holders of public broadcast licenses present multiple perspectives on important public issues. This act was fueled by a paranoia that the big three âÄî NBC, ABC and CBS âÄî would be able to use their disproportionate access into the homes of American families to shape public opinion, not based solely on facts, but with the employment of any diabolical agendas that network executives wanted to pursue. The likelihood of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine is similar to the chances of snow in urban Tucson, Ariz., which incidentally happened several weeks ago. However, the mere fact that members of Congress have called for its reinstatement or even pronounced passive support for this doctrine is an alarming, though moderate, trend. In todayâÄôs media environment, which has turned from a three-way monopoly into a Wild West shootout, calling for any sort of âÄúfairnessâÄù is oxymoronic to the point of laughter. Accompanied by no less than John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow stated, âÄúI feel like thatâÄôs going to happen,âÄù referring to a possible reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine. Hiding behind an absurd concept of fairness, she claims that the goal of this doctrine would be to provide accountability to the airwaves. Instead of making media figures accountable for their positions, this makes them accountable for someone elseâÄôs position. Having to present multiple perspectives on an issue is the responsibility of the media world as a whole. When Bill OâÄôReilly spends 15 minutes ripping on President Obama, Chris Matthews spends the same time praising his eloquence and leadership ability. The need for âÄúfairness,âÄù whatever antiquated definition some members of Congress prefer, is provided by the proliferation of cable TV and popularity of polarized pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann. Requiring news organizations to provide multiple perspectives, with loose regulations regarding time and specificity, could result in a robust presentation of one view and near-effortless depiction of a contrary view. Despite varied support in Congress, the fortunes of this bill ultimately rest with President Barack Obama. Unlikely to get through Congress or even come to a full vote, the Fairness Doctrine has been clearly opposed by Obama, who would bring down the veto hammer on first momentâÄôs notice. Once again, though, the danger of this type of movement stands in the logic and ideology of the doctrine. TV networks, usually allotted a half hour for their news, would have to condense most of their material to present multiple perspectives and then make a haphazard conclusion based on unstable foundations. According to the Academic Bill of Rights from Students for Academic Freedom, âÄúthere is no humanly accessible truth that is not in principle open to challenge.âÄù That is, if the conception of âÄúfairâÄù were to come from the Fairness Doctrine, every theory would need multiple perspectives to be presented, even in the presence of empirical evidence supporting one theory over another. The plethora of perspectives pertaining to controversial economic and political issues would create a free-for-all in which countless news organizations pursue overlapping, impassionate presentations in a watered-down media environment that even a Sham Wow couldnâÄôt clean up. Instead of crusading for the multiple-perspective Fairness Doctrine, Congress should make legislation that requires media outlets to cover completely different stories and perspectives. If every organization were to present a unique, out-of-the-box perspective, there would be no limit to the proliferation of free ideas. This column, accessed via UWire, was originally published in the Arizona Daily Wildcat at the University of Arizona. Please send comments to [email protected]