CRASH 2008-09 -- first wave

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Fairness Doctrine overturned yields corporate media

Fairness Doctrine


The Fairness Doctrine is a former policy of the United States's Federal Communications Commission. It required broadcast licensees to present controversial issues of public importance, and to present such issues in an honest, equal and balanced manner.

In Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC [1] (1969), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine, under challenges that it violated the First Amendment. Although similar laws had been deemed unconstitutional when applied to newspapers (and the court, five years later, would unanimously overturn a Florida statute on newspapers), the Court ruled that radio stations could be regulated in this way because of the scarcity of radio stations. Critics of the Red Lion decision have pointed out that most markets then and now are served by a greater number of radio stations than newspapers.

Critics of the Fairness Doctrine believed that it was primarily used to intimidate and silence political opposition. Although the Doctrine was rarely enforced, many radio broadcasters believed it had a "chilling effect" on their broadcasting, forcing them to avoid any commentary that could be deemed critical or unfair by powerful interests.

The Doctrine was enforced throughout the entire history of the FCC (and its precursor, the Federal Radio Commission) until 1987, when the FCC repealed it in the Syracuse Peace Conference decision in 1987. The Republican-controlled commission claimed the doctrine had grown to inhibit rather than enhance debate and suggested that, due to the many media voices in the marketplace at the time, the doctrine was probably unconstitutional. Others, noting the subsequent rise of right-wing radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, suggest the repeal was more likely motivated by a desire to get partisans on the air.

The two corollary rules, the personal attack rule and the political editorial rule, remained in practice even after the repeal of the fairness doctrine. The personal attack rule is pertinent whenever a person or small group is subject to a character attack during a broadcast. Stations must notify such persons or groups within a week of the attack, send them transcripts of what was said, and offer the opportunity to respond on the air. The political editorial rule applies when a station broadcasts editorials endorsing or opposing candidates for public office, and stipulates that the candidates not endorsed be notified and allowed a reasonable opportunity to respond.

The Court of Appeals for Washington D.C. ordered the FCC to justify these corollary rules in light of the decision to axe the fairness doctrine. The commission did not do so promptly, and in 2000 it ordered their repeal. The collapse of the fairness doctrine and its corollary rules had significant political effects. One liberal Pennsylvania political leader, State Rep. Mark B. Cohen of Philadelphia, said "The fairness doctrine helped reinforce a politics of moderation and inclusiveness. The collapse of the fairness doctrine and its corollary rules blurred the distinctions between news, political advocacy, and political advertising, and helped lead to the polarizing cacophony of strident talking heads that we have today."

Conservatives, in contrast, see attempts to revive the Doctrine as an attempt to silence conservative voices, noting that sectors of the media they believe to have a liberal bias (major newspapers, newsmagazines, evening newscasts of the broadcast networks) would not be touched by the Doctrine.  {It is not that the Conservative talking heads believe in liberal bias, rather they claim such bias as part of their talking points—used to sway opinion and promote their own programming—jk}. 

Books such as Brook’s and several carefully constructed studies show the Conservative position to be without merit.  The very logistic of the situation—confirmed by experience and numerous paradigms—confirm these studies.  Simply put, the vast majority of those who own significant chunks of the media are political conservatives, and their political and social beliefs determine the imbalance of content--jk

The airwaves were once a public trust, and content could not blantly support a political bias.  The production of idea by the corporate media has created apathy and confusion.  Misinformation and faith in a system that is fleecing the masses is the norm.  We have returned to the 1920 with whimpers instead of riots and violent strikes--jk. 

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Teddy Roosevelt's advice that, "We must drive the special interests out of politics. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being. There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains."

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Nothing I have seen is better at explaining in a balanced way the development of the national-banking system (Federal Reserve, Bank of England and others).  Its quality research and pictures used to support its concise explanation set a standard for documentaries--at  The 2nd greatest item in the U.S. budget is payment on the debt.