Fairness Doctrine

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The Fairness Doctrine was a policy enforced in the United States by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that required broadcast licensees to present controversial issues of public importance, and to present such issues in a fair and balanced manner.

In Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC (1969), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine, under challenges that it violated the First Amendment.

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throughout the entire history of the FCC (and its precursor, the Federal Radio Commission) until 1987, when the FCC repealed it in the Syracuse Peace Conference decision in 1987.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 host 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 it's corollary rules had significant political effects. One longtime 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 it's 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."

External links

  • Renew the Fairness Doctrine website - FairnessDoctrine.com
  • Broadcasting Fairness Doctrine Promised Balanced Coverage
  • Bring Back the Fairness Doctrine
  • Affirmative Action for Free Speech, political (right wing) commentary on the Fairness Doctrine
  • Media Groups Unveil Web Site to Support Slaughter's Fairness Doctrine Bill - Alt Press Online
  • U.S. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter Support Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine
  • Fairness Doctrine - The Museum of Broadcast Communications
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