Media muzzle in the works?


Both the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Los Angeles Times have OpEd pieces out on the topic of the Fairness Doctrine. Both agree that it should never again see the light of day. The disagreement is over whether there is a serious attempt to revive it in progress.

At the Trib, Dimitri Vassilaros wrote a piece entitled “The Unfairness Doctrine,” in which he suggests that key Congressional leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have suggested support for the Doctrine’s return. He notes that the requirement to balance expressed political thought will force many broadcasters to simply abandon such programming. He suggests broadcasters band together to form a resistance organization, complete with website, which would label Fairness “The Gag Rule.” He cites DePauw University Jeffrey McCall, who says the movement should recruit members of all ideological stripes – which it will be able to because individuals on both sides of the spectrum want their freedom of speech protected.

James Rainey at LAT agrees that there is no need to revive the Fairness Doctrine, and that the liberals who supposedly want to do so actually have programming of their own to protect. He noted that on occasion Democratic lawmakers have mentioned support for the Doctrine in passing, but that he has been completely unable to detect any overt effort to bring it back to life. One of those who recently brought up the topic, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) admitted that it was at best a back-burner item, far from getting on anybody’s to-do list. Rainey mentions a possible exception to the ranks of passive Fairness supporter in the person of Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who has a habit of introducing legislation to reregulate broadcasters. Rainey suggests Hinchey may try again soon, but there is no indication as to whether or not a Fairness plank would be included.

RBR/TVBR observation: Many progressive media watchdogs are putting out wish lists now that Barack Obama is headed for the White House, but most seem content to attack the problem of diverse media voices through propagation of diverse media ownership. Maybe there’s a legislator out there planning to reintroduce something along these lines – it will find itself languishing next to that of Louise Slaughter (D-NY), which still lies dormant despite Democrat control of Congress these past two years.

Even the recent support expressed by Chuck Schumer (D-NY) comes with a caveat. He was giving an interview to Fox News Channel. He did not go on FNC to talk up Fairness, he was asked about it out of the blue. That he expressed sympathy for it is not the same as having a plan to reanimate it.

Broadcasters should watch this topic, and if it does start to develop legs, broadcasters should resist forcefully. They will likely have support from both sides of the aisle, especially from Democrats who enjoy watching Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann and may not want them muzzled any more than conservatives want Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity muzzled. Even if it does get widespread Democratic support, broadcasters would stand a very good chance of gaining relief form the court system. But there is no reason to think that reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine is imminent.