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The Fairness Doctrine

Issue Background

The Fairness Doctrine is a frequently cited historic policy of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). The policy required lease-bearing broadcast organizations to devote a portion of their time to controversial matters of public interest by presenting a variety of opinions. In 1987, the FCC stopped enforcing the policy and in essence removed the doctrine entirely. In recent years there has been talk in Washington of reviving the now controversial policy. President Obama has made it clear that he opposes a reintroduction of the Fairness Doctrine.

Key Arguments

» Yes

  • Broadcast airwaves are public property that can be leased to broadcast corporations for up to 8 year terms. Because the number of available frequencies is limited, the federal government should be able to intervene in order to ensure a balanced public debate.
  • Currently, corporations can lease and manage many frequencies at once. As a result, it is possible for a particular party or viewpoint to broadcasting a skewed perception of public opinion by either ignoring or diminishing the opposing view.
  • The Fairness Doctrine would improve public discussion and raise collective intelligence by promoting a variety of opinions.

» No

  • The Fairness Doctrine is a violation of the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the freedom of speech. The government should play no role in determining what is and is not appropriate content for a journalistic broadcast.
  • The money necessary to enforce The Fairness Doctrine could be put to better use. A restructuring of frequency leasing policy could balance talk radio and cost very little. There is not enough evidence to prove that The Fairness Doctrine would have similar success and enforcement would be costly.
  • The Fairness Doctrine may act as an incentive to avoid controversial topics on talk radio. It would add new complications to the talk radio industry and increase the cost of editorializing.


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