Argument: Fairness Doctrine would destroy viability of conservative radio
Derek Hunter. "'Fairness doctrine': Anything but fair". Politico. 17 May 2007 - President Ronald Reagan threw it on the ash pile of history, overturning it in 1987.
The move marked the birth of modern talk radio. Once the muzzle of equal time was off, hosts were free to say what they thought without fear of fine or firing. This allowed the market to work. Stations flourished, talk radio gained influence and created stars.
But a funny thing happened on the way to freedom; the market was clearly one-sided and growing in influence. Conservative voices dominated the AM dial, while liberals were few and far between. And the liberals who were able to survive had audiences only a fraction of the size of those of their conservative counterparts.
The reason for this is commonly accepted to be the long-standing liberal bias in traditional media. Newspapers and television have long been biased toward the left, and with the shackles of the Fairness Doctrine removed, conservatives finally had an outlet to put their perspective into the public square and found millions of wanton, neglected ears eager to tune in. The popularity of Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio hosts is credited by many with contributing significantly to the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994.
This conservative ascendancy did not sit well with liberals. And so the idea of restoring the Fairness Doctrine is one that's been kicked around Washington for some time. With a Republican Congress, the prospects were slim, at best. But now the Democrats are in charge and bills to restore the Fairness Doctrine have been introduced in both chambers. Led by Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), free speech, allegedly revered by the left, is under assault.
Their argument that stripping the airwaves of the First Amendment is in the interest of the American people holds about as much water as a stone. This is a direct result of their disliking the fact that liberalism has failed miserably on radio, while maintaining near-monopoly status in newspapers and on television.
The much-heralded launch of Air America was supposed to be the balance liberals sought. But despite free publicity from every media outlet and several influxes of cash (including from a charity), Air America's management made Enron look like a successful business model. The market has spoken, and they're failing. Left-wing radio doesn't work (unless it is subsidized by taxpayers, in the case of NPR).
What would be the practical effect of the return of the Fairness Doctrine? Simple -- the end of talk radio as we know it. No station could afford to carry a successful conservative show if it had to balance it with a liberal show. Stations would lose their identity and autonomy, and we would return to what radio was like before 1987, when there were about 100 talk shows, not the thousands that exist now.
The return of the Fairness Doctrine has nothing to do with fairness. It has everything to do with shutting down opposing viewpoints. When Republicans were in charge, they didn't move to regulate into silence voices that spoke out against them. The power of government should not be used to silence opposition. That, by any reading of the First Amendment, is un-American and unfair.