Saturday, February 14, 2009

Fairness Doctrine

Kevin Drum chimes in here on the discussion of the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC rule, abolished in the 1980's, that, in summary, required radio stations to provide rebuttal time if the station was to broadcast controversial commentary.  I pretty much disagree with him here.

Now the doctrine died in the 1980's as part of the Regan revolution.  There has been no serious effort to revive it in liberal political circles, much less in the Congress.  Liberals would not mind seeing it come back, but generally regard it as a dead issue, and don't much care.  I could well be counted among its more ardent supporters and I don't much care.  Nonetheless, since the start of this year, conservatives have been from time to time hyperventilating over the prospect that Democrats will reinstate it.  There has been no serious effort to do so, Obama doesn't support it, none of the leadership is calling for it and the strongest voices on the supper lefty blogs are not calling for it.  See, for example, here and here (the only reference to the doctrine I found on Kos).  And the right is going crazy over the possibility, they are quite fired up about the possibility.

Then Bill Clinton added his voice and expressed his opinion that the doctrine should be restored.  Now while Bill Clinton is a Democrat and as an ex-President he is quite a significant Democrat, that ex- in his title limits his legislative influence.  Still Kevin Drum feels that this is too strong a commentary from a high profile Democrat and Clinton should really shut up about it. 

Kevin is nuts.  Look, on the merits the right wingers are wrong.  The existence of a broadcast network requires the federal government to provide the security that if a given station is transmitting on a frequency, nobody else is.  Someone must insure that there is no interference between broadcasters and the only entity positioned to do that is the feds.  If we the people, through our government, wish to put the restriction that having this protection means that you must also support the fairness doctrine is perfectly reasonable.  Also, the point of the fairness doctrine is that if someone were to defame me before a large audience, common decency says that I should have the opportunity to defend myself before that same audience.  So on both these points the fairness doctrine is a perfectly reasonable rule.  Now, just as I argue above that if we the people wish to have a fairness doctrine attached to broadcast radio, if we don't want it we are free to do without.  That is the decision that was made in the '80's and Democrats are content to live with the decision.

To have the right wing going on about the unfairness to them if they don't get the secure use of frequency provided by the federal government at least 100% of the time, at no charge, their business model cannot survive, only serves to make them look whiny and weak.  Similarly Kevin's fear of giving Rush Limbaugh something to complain about is completely wrong headed.  If we give Rush nothing to complain about but our breathing, be sure that he will be in a towering outrage over that. 

I think there is nothing better for the liberal cause on this issue than to have high profile democrats put forth publicly our arguments in favor of the doctrine, while democrats in positions to affect legislation let the issue lie and conservatives burst veins over the merest possibility that they would have to abide by such a rule.  Let us have the debate.



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