NAB fights Fairness Doctrine


The House of Representatives has put attempts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine on ice for at least a year, and the Senate is about to try and do the same thing. A quarter, Norm Coleman (R-MN), Jim DeMint (R-SC), John Thune (R-SD) and James Inhofe (R-OK), with support of over a dozen others, are going to try to attach similar language to a defense appropriation bill, which may have problems on the way to passage completely unrelated to Fairness. Nevertheless, NAB President/CEO David Rehr has asked all members of the Senate to help beat back what he sees as an assault on the freedom of speech.

In a letter sent to each member, he said, "I write to you today urging you to oppose any attempt to resurrect this long-discarded regulation. Free speech must be just that – free from government influence, interference and censorship." Although the high-minded aim of the Doctrine is to promote a diversity of viewpoints on the airwaves, Rehr argued that in effect it does just the opposite. "Newsgatherers, media outlets and reporters will be less willing to present ideas that might be controversial. In fact, FCC officials found that the doctrine 'had the net effect of reducing, rather than enhancing, the discussion of controversial issues of public importance,' and therefore was in violation of constitutional principles."

SmartMedia observation: We don't have much to add to what Rehr said. We'll simply note that Gannett's USA Today put this issue in front of conservative Cal Thomas and liberal Bob Beckel, and while they spent several column inches bashing each other in general, they were in complete agreement that no matter how you define the problem, if you even acknowledge there is a problem, the Fairness Doctrine is not the answer for either side.

Although the hue and cry to reinstate FD is coming from the left at the moment, Beckel quite correctly noted the attempt by conservatives to invoke it in a call for family programming to counter what they saw as "promiscuous or off-color shows such as 'Laugh-In' and 'All in the Family.'" And that's the bottom line: You may want to have the FD as a security blanket now, but you'll hate it when the worm has turned and your opponents start to clamor for it. As Thomas put it, "Well, we agree that the answer to speech you may not like is not less speech, but more speech." Amen.