Monday, February 16, 2009

Why We Must Restore the 'Fairness Doctrine'

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

Restoring the 'Fairness Doctrine' is an important first step in taking back media from the likes of Fox, Bill O'Reilly and the legion of paid liars, pundits and press agents for the corporate 'media-ocracy'. Ronald Reagan stole the 'public airwaves' from you and, since that time about six or seven huge corporations have dominated the American media --possibly that of the world. When once you had a voice, now you have none but your favorite message board. Big corporate media dictates the topic of debate and the rules.

The Fairness Doctrine had required broadcasters to devote air time to the discussion of 'controversial matters of public interest'. To maintain a 'license' broadcasters were required to 'air' opposing and contrasting opinions and viewpoints. Given wide latitude, TV and radio outlets really had little to complain about.

The Fairness Doctrine was formally adopted in 1949 but repealed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan’s pro-big business FCC. The doctrine can be traced back to the early days of broadcast regulation and was the 'teeth' in the federal law that affirmed the public ownership of the 'airwaves'.

Your right to challenge the licenses of abusive outlets is now severely restrained or non-existent. Because there is no real competition, 'big media' can lie to you, slant the news, fill up air time with bullshit and Billo and jack up the rates on air time and other advertising. 'Fair and balanced' is bunkum and bullshit! What you really get are corporate talking points, Wolf Blitzer cliches and banalities passed off as 'analysis'. Because they have been brainwashed, millions don't even know that they've been brainwashed.

There is precedent for a 'people's revolution' that will take back our media.
A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a...frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the Government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others.... It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.

--U.S. Supreme Court, upholding the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 1969.
The American media has failed us. We expected no better from Fox. It is CBS, the network of Ed Murrow, that has been most disappointing. We want 'our' media back from the likes of Clear Channel, Fox, Sinclair and the other huge corporations.

It's bad enough that Fox tells deliberate lies; it is even worse that they make billions doing it.

The domination of media and thus debate itself might have been foreseen. Ronald Reagan and his partners in crime were allowed to get away with that amounts to the 'legalized' theft of your airwaves. Fox is lying on your airwaves. As the fraudulent nature of Bush's administration crumbled, it had been hoped that the American media would take a cue from one of its pioneers. The standard Murrow set is yet to be lived up to.

It is not surprising to learn that R. Murdoch adored Ronald Reagan. Reagan presided over the "de-regulation" of the media which made possible Murdoch's rise to media prominence in the US. There was a time when broadcast outlets operated from a legal premise that had been established by the Federal Communications Act of 1934 that the "public" owns the airwaves. Later, in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine limited the power of media corporations' control over communications systems. Media were required to serve "the public interest, convenience, or necessity." Congress mandated the new FCC - created in the act - set aside certain frequencies for educational use. It was this provision that made it possible for many to get real broadcast experience and a college education as well.

As Ronald Reagan reversed regulations and systematically demolished media restraints, media regulation all but stopped in the early 1980s. Later, In 1987, the first Bush administration went after the Fairness Doctrine. In the case of Meredith Corp. v. FCC, the courts ruled that the FCC need not enforce the so-called "fairness doctrine". It was a green light to demagogues like Rush Limbaugh.
When the Sinclair Broadcast Group retreated from pre-election plans to force its 62 television stations to preempt prime-time programming in favor of airing the blatantly anti–John Kerry documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal, the reversal wasn’t triggered by a concern for fairness: Sinclair back-pedaled because its stock was tanking. The staunchly conservative broadcaster’s plan had provoked calls for sponsor boycotts, and Wall Street saw a company that was putting politics ahead of profits. Sinclair’s stock declined by nearly 17 percent before the company announced it would air a somewhat more balanced news program in place of the documentary ( Baltimore Sun, 10/24/04).

But if fairness mattered little to Sinclair, the news that a corporation that controlled more TV licenses than any other could put the publicly owned airwaves to partisan use sparked discussion of fairness across the board, from media democracy activists to television industry executives.

Variety (10/25/04) underlined industry concerns in a report suggesting that Sinclair’s partisanship was making other broadcasters nervous by fueling “anti-consolidation forces” and efforts to bring back the FCC’s defunct Fairness Doctrine:

Sinclair could even put the Fairness Doctrine back in play, a rule established in 1949 to require that the networks—all three of them—air all sides of issues. The doctrine was abandoned in the 1980s with the proliferation of cable, leaving citizens with little recourse over broadcasters that misuse the public airwaves, except to oppose the renewal of licenses.
The Sinclair controversy brought discussion of the Fairness Doctrine back to news columns ( Baltimore Sun, 10/24/04; L.A. Times, 10/24/04) and opinion pages ( Portland Press Herald, 10/24/04; Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 10/22/04) across the country. Legal Times (11/15/04) weighed in with an in-depth essay headlined: “A Question of Fair Air Play: Can Current Remedies for Media Bias Handle Threats Like Sinclair’s Aborted Anti-Kerry Program?”

Sinclair’s history of one-sided editorializing and right-wing water-carrying, which long preceded its Stolen Honor ploy ( Extra!, 11–12/04), puts it in the company of political talk radio, where right-wing opinion is the rule, locally and nationally. Together, they are part of a growing trend that sees movement conservatives and Republican partisans using the publicly owned airwaves as a political megaphone—one that goes largely unanswered by any regular opposing perspective. It’s an imbalance that begs for a remedy.

--The Fairness Doctrine: How we lost it, and why we need it back
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was sold as a means of opening up competition in the communications market. The opposite turned out to have been the effect. What followed was a wave of mergers that decreased competition. The media is now dominated by a handful of souless conglomerates like Fox. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is another case of political "bait and switch".

In 1934, our government had said that the "airwaves" belonged not to the big corporations or to the government but to the people themselves. We want it back!

We've always known that the Fox network "slanted" the news. But that's not all. They make it up!


Proof Fox News Is Bush And GOP Network

I would like to know what's in it for Rupert Murdoch to preside over a news organization that manufactures - full cloth - phony news stories. What is Murdoch's specific connection to the Bush crime syndicate? What is the bigger story --the story about how the American media devolved from giants like Murrow, Cronkite and Severeid to the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity? How did we get here?

The use of the term 'de-regulation' to characterize the government theft and subsequent transfer of your airwaves is 'Orwellian', a tactic intended to hide the real intent. The government of the US literally stole your airwaves and transferred ownership of them to right wing liars and demagogues like the Fox Network, Sinclair et al --big corporations where the likes of Bill O'Reilly and other right-wing shills had merely to wag an accusing finger while shouting "LIBERAL, LIBERAL" to sink a candidacy or --earlier --impeach the most competent President since FDR.
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

--Macbeth (IV, i, 14-15)

Reasonable, rational voices are simply drowned-out by the right wing noise machine consisting of the Religious Right and the K-Street advocates of big corporate financed fascism --a mind-numbing 'hell's broth' if ever there was one.

The right wing makes much of entrepreneurship, the right of a soulless corporation to 'make money', to earn a profit. Oh really! Are we to believe that liberal dollars are worth less than 'conservative' dollars?

Even if they were, are they worth so much less that the entire Fox organization can literally write off the 'liberal' market? If that is the FOX position, then my response is that 'liberals' should simply take up the challenge! Boycott every company that places its advertising dollar with Fox. Fox would shove their swill up your ass and inexplicably expect you to patronize their sponsors! Screw that! Boycott any business that advertises on a network that really does not care what you think!

Fox may willingly kiss off moneys that liberals might have spent with Fox advertisers. But how would the advertisers feel about that? Have their marketing departments concluded that only liberal dollars are losing value as a result of conservative mismanagement of the economy? If Fox has blown off the 'liberal market', then there is left only one conclusion: Murdoch and his minions are not in it for the money. The Fox raison d'etre, therefore, is not free enterprise, business or capitalism. They just want to brain wash you.

Republicans are incapable of differentiating between a "principle" and a "prejudice". The conservative mind-set is committed to free speech only if it applies only to them. The GOP has never favored 'free speech' for the opposition.

It's also time to debunk popular, conservative, GOP myths about the 'Fairness Doctrine'.
In the history of the Fairness Doctrine, only one broadcaster permanently lost a license to operate a television station due to bias in coverage. WLBT 3 Jackson, Mississippi attained significant notoriety for its open support of racial segregation in Mississippi in the 1950s and 1960s and its opposition to civil rights. The station also routinely removed portions of network news broadcasts covering civil rights issues, often under the pretext of technical difficulties, causing civil rights groups and the United Church of Christ to complain to the Federal Communications Commission. Several FCC warnings to Lamar, the station's owner, went unheeded and the issue was contested in the U.S. Court of Appeals. The court ordered the FCC to revoke the station's license in 1969.

Hah, it sure would be terrible to bring that rule back, right?

Anyways it was repealed by Reagan, then came the deluge: talk radio! And, on the whole, that was fine, because while it would be nice if the government could actually mandate that broadcasters be reasonable and serve the public interest, we know that is not actually possible. What would be nice would be more reasonable directives about media ownership and local interest, so that we don't get more stories of small towns that don't hear about tornadoes or something because all their radio stations are owned by Clear Channel (is that just a media studies urban legend??).

But it gets the crazies excited when dumb liberals respond to their inability to find a popular media figure as "charismatic" and talented as Rush Limbaugh by claiming it's time to bring back the fairness doctrine. Then they can send out emails saying "they're gonna ban Rush!" and that fat addict's victim-cult can all blame the uppity women and blacks for them losing their jobs.

So, Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, you are not helping anyone's cause but Rush Limbaugh's when you off-handedly mention your desire to see some new Fairness Doctrine-ish rules be introduced. Even if what you are actually talking about here is hearings on media ownership, which won't happen anyway because the Dems are just as in the pocket of the telecoms and media conglomerates as anyone, all that will make it out to the angry AM Radio masses is "they're gonna take away Rush!"

Though maybe it is helping! The Republican party is bereft of ideas and leadership, and so that angry unpleasant talk show host is becoming their voice. Which is fantastic news for the incredibly small and shrinking demographic he represents, aging white males. Rush repulses every other demographic in America, of course, so good for the Republicans. They are letting Mr. Limbaugh have the closing speech at their annual convention, CPAC. Also on the guest list: Ms. Sarah Palin!

--Talking about a Fairness Doctrine Is the Easiest Way to Piss Off a Republican

Like rotting garbage, vapid talk about 'Republican principles' always makes me puke. Eventually, with enough corporate support, enough mindless distractions provided by the likes of its corporate media sponsors, the GOP has apparently succeeded in dumbing down a nation, reducing its 'body politic' to couch-loving morons, beer swilling bigots, and lobotomized 'Palins'.

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