The Marketplace Decides, Diversity Fails

Net neutrality is on its way to being gutted. Time Warner has rammed a bulk mail rate increase that severely undercuts small periodicals. Small presses are dying and quirky imprints like Thunder’s Mouth are being gutted.

And remember the Fairness Doctrine shot down by Reagan? Well, it seems that the Republicans want to bring back the debate through the dubiously named Broadcaster Freedom Act (PDF).

It seems that letting the issue die twenty years ago wasn’t enough. One of Senator Sam Rayburn’s great legislative accomplishments — The Communications Act of 1934 — is being completely destroyed — even with the enthusiastic help of many Democrats. Here is the clause in question:

Notwithstanding section 303 or any other provision of this Act or any other Act authorizing the Commission to prescribe rules, regulations, policies, doctrines, standards, or other requirements, the Commission shall not have the authority to prescribe any rule, regulation, policy, doctrine, standard, or other requirement that has the purpose or effect of reinstating or repromulgating (in whole or in part) the requirement that broadcasters present opposing viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance, commonly referred to as the ‘Fairness Doctrine’, as repealed in General Fairness Doctrine Obligations of Broadcast Licensees, 50 Fed.Reg. 35418 (1985).

Congress wants to ensure that the FCC never considers the concept of the Fairness Doctrine ever again.

The Oreganian has a solid overview of the Fairness Doctrine, which revisits the failed 2005 efforts to re-adopt the Fairness Doctrine through the Media Ownership Reform Act and offers this telling quote from Representative Greg Walden:

Among the five stations Walden owns is KACI, which airs conservative talk shows such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Reagan. While the stations offer some local, objective news reporting, they don’t balance the conservative talkers with liberal shows.

Walden acknowledges the rightward slant of talk radio but attributes it to consumer demand.

“Is it more conservative than liberal? Yeah,” Walden said. “Are there a lot more country-western stations than polka stations? Yeah. Listeners make these determinations. The marketplace decides.”

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3 Comments

  1. It doesn’t make any sense to me either to have Washington come in and legislate against free markets. Consumer choice should be ultimate decider on this issue – I do some work with the National Association of Broadcasters and I can tell you that government stepping in like this in the end hurts the consumer more than helps. Additionally, if it wasn’t a good idea the first time why bring it back now? Just because of a change in the party in charge of Congress? The “Fairness” doctrine is not a good idea no matter what name you call it.

  2. The point of the Fairness Doctrine is to ensure that those who make use of the public’s airwaves – in case you were not aware, ABC, NBC, Clear Channel, et. al. do not own them – act at least in part in the public interest, in this case by providing equal time for opposing viewpoints so that the public can make an informed decision in the ultimate free market, that of the ideas held by those we elect to govern us. If the NAB doesn’t like it, the fat bastards can stick to cable and satellite radio.

    Legislation against the free market my ass.

  3. FreakyBeaky,

    I completely agree with you that it should be up to the public to make the decision about what they want to listen to but I don’t see that mandating equal air time is the way to do it. If people don’t like what they are listening to all they simply have to do is change the channel or turn it off – and stations will get the message. Stations will respond to consumer demand without government forcing them to put on anything. The government didn’t think this was a good idea in 1987 when they tried to pass the Fairness Doctrine the last time, why is it any better of an idea today?

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