My Former Congresswoman’s Illogical Support of the (Un)Fairness Doctrine

(Cross-posted at Commodore Perry)

Ok, so a while back, I wrote my then-Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D, IL-09) about Speaker Pelosi’s desire to reintroduce the media-bias-balancing “Fairness” Doctrine. Finally, she emailed back. I never expected her to agree with me, since she is tied for the most liberal current Congressperson (h/t electoral-vote.com), but yeesh! Below is a run-through of her response (nothing is taken out of order):

“I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment.”

Me too. That’s why I don’t like the Fairness Doctrine. Hmm.

“The Fairness Doctrine does not require censorship of various viewpoints but actually encourages it by requiring that all views have a chance to be aired concerning the prominent issues of the day.”

Wrong. If I used to freely speak for twenty hours, and now I must split my time by giving ten hours to someone else by government mandate instead of my choice or my employer’s choice, then I am being censored. Just because it’s a time issue versus a spoken-word issue does not mean it isn’t censorship.

“Democracy is built on the concept that the views, beliefs, and values of an informed citizenry provide the best basis for political decision-making.”

No. Democracy is built on the concept that the views, beliefs, and values of an informed citizenry will result in the best representatives to be elected, the right issues to be forced, and the proper Constitutional remedies to be taken whenever necessary. It is built on the concept that the citizenry has the ultimate decision-making power and not just the politicians.

[The 1987 repeal of the original 1934 Fairness Doctrine was based on the idea that] “… consumers would no longer need the Fairness Doctrine to ensure that their views were represented on a specific media outlet but would be able to present those views through competing media in the same market. Unfortunately, the public is now faced with increased concentration – not increased competition – but no longer has the Fairness Doctrine on which to fall back… I believe that there is significant argument for the FCC to recommend reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine to ensure that the complaints of unbalanced coverage can be addressed.”

So we should eradicate capitalism in favor of catering to the minority? I don’t think so. Instead of creating more bureaucracy, I have a better idea: tell people who don’t like what they hear to turn off the TV or radio and turn on the internet. This process, called “attrition”, will force the advertisers to stop funding the shows, and there will be new, changed views coming on instead.

“…I believe the enactment of similar measures would help provide better information to people in our country so that they could be better and more active participants in our democracy.”

Differing viewpoints may be good to force people to learn about the other side, but they do not necessarily come with better information. There’s a saying about systems: Junk In leads to Junk Out. Broadcasting bad information for the same amount of time as broadcasting good information is not going to help people become better educated or make more informed voting choices.

My Point: The availability of news and differing viewpoints is better now more than ever. Information and opinion come from TV, the radio, newspapers, the internet, and even newfangled podcasts. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, publishers only had horses and, eventually, slow trains, so whatever the old-and-slower printing presses did wind up producing took a long time to reach the public, and editors worried much less about differing viewpoints flooding the market. If we did not need a “Fairness Doctrine” under those circumstances, then we certainly don’t need one now.

Besides, in our country, the majority wins, and when public sentiment shifts, then so does everything else along with it, including representatives and radio talk shows. I could only agree with Rep. Schakowsky’s analysis of the situation if either A) the government was actually currently limiting the media’s speech freedoms, resulting in a bias across the legal and accessible information mediums, or B) we lived in a country where we were not used to doing things by popular majority. Just because most people who listen to talk radio want to hear one viewpoint, or because most people who watch the major TV news networks want to hear another, does not mean that there is “censorship”; in fact, not allowing people to listen to or watch what they want is censorship in itself. If they don’t want to hear it, then they’ll turn it off; the shows’ monies will dry up, and there will be new voices and faces. That is the beauty of the Great American Experiment.


See more at: Commodore Perry