Katie Rohman: Good riddance to pointless regulationsPublished 11:01pm Wednesday, September 7, 2011
A major change in broadcasting matters of public interest was implemented last month with surprisingly little fanfare.
The rule was tossed out along with other “outdated and obsolete” media-related rules as part of the FCC’s reform agenda. The FCC said it hasn’t enforced the rule for about 20 years.
The FCC decided to eliminate the doctrine in 1987, but the action to formally remove that language was not put in place until last month.
The Fairness Doctrine, in place since 1949, required licensed broadcasters to share airwaves equally for competing political points of view, and to air contrasting views regarding those issues.
This is not the same thing as the equal-time rule, which provides equal opportunity to opposing political candidates on radio and TV stations who request it.
At the time of the Fairness Doctrine’s creation, only 2,881 radio stations existed; today there are about 14,000.
Although the doctrine has been considered an unnecessary distraction, its elimination has been met with criticism from both sides of the aisle.
Some Republications claim the policy should be enforced because they believe the media are biased toward liberal views.
Democrats argue that the Fairness Doctrine is needed because of right-leaning Fox News and conservative talk shows on the public airwaves.
According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, “From the early 1940s, the FCC had established the ‘Mayflower Doctrine,’ which prohibited editorializing by stations. But that absolute ban softened somewhat by the end of the decade, allowing editorializing only if other points of view were aired, balancing that of the station’s. During these years, the FCC had established dicta and case law guiding the operation of the doctrine.”
FCC Chair Julius Genachoswki said this week of the doctrine: “…Striking this from our books ensures there can be no mistake that what has long been a dead letter remains dead. The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago.”
This is not the first time the Fairness Doctrine has been examined, but it will hopefully be the last. Unenforced regulations are a waste of time, as was the excessive length of time it took to finally remove this policy from the books.