The “Fairness Doctrine” was established in 1949 order to guarantee that media coverage of debatable issues had to be reported in a fair and balanced manner. The principle of the doctrine stemmed from concerns that different media outlets were able to pursue their own agendas for political purposes. This made the public vulnerable to being influenced by being exposed to a single point of view. This paper will discuss the intent of the Doctrine, as well is presenting both sides of the argument for its passage and repeal before concluding that it should not be reinstated.
The Fairness Doctrine was created in 1949, and involved a requirement that broadcasters cover issues of local importance while offering a balance of perspectives (Ammori.) The doctrine was adopted by the FCC and was an effort to guarantee that opposing viewpoints on these controversial issues were available to the public. Before it was repealed in 1983, the Fairness Doctrine pertained only to broadcast licensees who were trustees of a rare public resource, and were required to adopt specific public interest obligations in exchange for the exclusive use of limited public airwaves (Nelson.) It was designed to ensure that all points of view were presented to the public.
The doctrine was guaranteed by the FCC when they defined clear rules establishing what exactly were personal attacks as well as political editorializing. While it was in existence, however, many journalists objected to the doctrine on the basis that it violated the First Amendment guarantees of free speech as well as freedom of the press. These rights were designed to permit reporters to take charge of their own decisions about how and whether to balance stories. The opponents of the doctrine believed that not only was it unnecessary because there were so many channels available on cable TV, but in addition, it sabotaged the concept of freedom of the press because some journalists simply avoided covering controversial issues because of the requirement that they present both sides (Nelson.) This dilemma contrasted sharply with the original intentions of the FCC in establishing this policy.
I do not believe that the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated, because I don’t think that it is educational for people to hear every single point presented balanced out with a counter argument. This prevents people from being able to sort through the material that they have heard and arrive at their own decisions and conclusions. In addition, it seems undesirable to give the government the responsibility of making decisions about what constitutes fairness regarding speech and print. In addition, the Fairness Doctrine tends to limits the widest possible range of differences in perspectives, because as stated, when it was in existence many journalists simply avoided covering topics that were controversial because they did not want to have to present all points of view. The result was undoubtedly less opportunity for the public to be informed about controversial issues because of this reluctance on the part of reporters. A truly free press needs to have the opportunity to decide what and how it covers events, and should be able to give the public enough credit to make their own judgments about how to feel about the issues. In addition, if the Fairness Doctrine were to be reinstated, it would likely be overturned by the courts on the basis of being a violation of freedom of speech and the press. It is no longer a valid argument that there aren’t enough airwaves for the public to be exposed to a variety of viewpoints because of the unlimited number of talk radio shows and television shows, in addition to Internet sites, that present a wide range of opposing opinions. My major objection to the Fairness Doctrine is that it does a disservice to the public which is counter to its original purpose, by preventing Americans from integrating information and deciding without FCC or government help exactly how they feel about different issues.
- Ammori, Martin and Silver, Josh. “The Fairness Doctrine Distraction.” n.d. Free Press.net. Electronic. 7 April 2013.
- Nelson, Robert. “Reinstitute Fairness Doctrine to Improve Public Debate.” 6 April 2010. Dome Magazine. Electronic. 7 April 2013.