Fairness … be careful what you wish for


According to John Gizzi, writing in Human Events.com, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “…signaled her strong support for revival of the “Fairness Doctrine” — which would require radio station owners to provide equal time to radio commentary when it is requested.

“Experts say that the “Fairness Doctrine,” which was ended under the Reagan Administration, would put a major burden on small radio stations in providing equal time to Rush Limbaugh and other conservative broadcasters, who are a potent political force.  Rather than engage in the costly practice of providing that time, the experts conclude, many stations would simply not carry Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and other talk show hosts who are likely to generate demands for equal time.” http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=27185

Stop right there! 

Mr. Gizzi can be excused for confusing Equal Time with the retired Fairness Doctrine, it happened all the time back in the day when we worried about such things. The former Fairness Doctrine was never “equal time” – that was saved for elections and “legally qualified candidates.”

“…You’re a crook.”  

“…No, I’m not; but you’re ugly.” 

“…I am not.” 

“…Yes, you are.”

There you go: Equal Time. A tie, 2-2.

I survived the Fairness Doctrine the first time around and I can tell you there is nothing “fair” about it. To begin with, there’s the pesky First Amendment and its high bars for press freedom and freedom of speech. But, even if we set that inconvenient footnote aside for a second, a “fairness” edict for broadcast starts a never-ending chain of bad decisions, which is why this dumb idea was cold cocked more than twenty years ago.

The key used to be ‘a controversial issue of public importance.’ Put one of these on the air and you were fairness bait. The beau ideal was: present both sides of issues important to people. Sounds easy enough. Of course the catch-22 is a. which issues are ‘controversial’ and ‘important’ and  b. has the station been fair-minded in its coverage. If not, start over. And, over, and over, and over until the gub’ment decides you got it right or you lose your license, whichever comes first.

Often radio stations sidestepped those significant issues altogether to avoid the ‘fairness’ quicksand. Faced with the b.s. of seeking out opposing views and spokespeople for the other side, many stations walked around the swamp. Can you blame them?

I hope this very bad idea – and worse policy – is put to rest once and for all. “Fairness” is what a former law professor of mine called ‘a jury word.’ WHO decides what is ‘fair’ and if enough steps were taken to ‘ensure’ ‘fairness?’ The House Speaker? The five guys and gals on the FCC? Fourteen state Governors; seven Blue, seven Red?

Here’s my idea: a referee panel appointed by Rush Limbaugh, Al Franken, Sean Hannity, and Garrison Keillor.
Trust this Fairness Doctrine survivor: that is no more zany a proposal than those you’ll see come out of Congress if this ‘fairness’ idea gains traction. Picture twenty circus clowns springing out of a VW.

–Bob Harper