The Fairness Doctrine Personified
August 24, 2009
By Humphrey Stevenson
In 1987, then President Ronald Reagan upheld the FCC's revocation of the Fairness Doctrine, a rule that had stood since 1949 that ostensibly required broadcasters to present both sides of a controversial issue. Reagan did so even though many of his political advisors warned against it. Their reasoning was that the only thing that kept the Big Three broadcasters and PBS from savaging Reagan more than they had already was the Fairness Doctrine. But for Reagan, it wasn't a matter of political expediency; it was a matter of principle. The Fairness Doctrine limited free speech and was therefore wrong.
There was no way President Reagan could have foreseen the rise of conservative talk radio that the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine unleashed. That happened because a Top 40 DJ that had bounced around stations all over the country and even considered leaving radio altogether, finally landed a gig in Sacramento, CA where his political commentary became so popular that a syndicator decided to take him national. That DJ's name was Rush Limbaugh. After twenty-one years his radio talk show is now heard on over 650 stations nationwide. He is credited with singlehandedly saving AM radio and blazing a trail for other political commentators to follow.
Today, there is a plethora of radio talk shows. Besides the Big Three; Rush, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, there are many lesser known talkers and younger commentators on satellite radio. The vast majority of the radio personalities are conservatives and that, as the liberals see it, is a serious problem.
Because of this disparity, the left has dreamed of the return of the Fairness Doctrine. As they see it, there is a corporate conspiracy to keep liberals off big time talk radio. They are not satisfied even though, with the exception of Fox News, liberals dominate television.
There have been several attempts to bring liberal talk radio to the airways. The largest was probably Air America . Starting in 2004, Air America featured liberals such as Mike Malloy, Rachel Maddow and Al Franken. After a couple of years of ownership squabbles and line-up changes, Air America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2006. It still limps along today but has never become any sort of force in the talk radio market. There is government funded NPR, a few local shows and a left leaning channel on satellite, but nothing with any listenership.
With no talk of bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, enter Mark Lloyd; President Obama's choice as FCC "Chief Diversity Officer" and sworn enemy of conservative programming everywhere. He was a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy think tank where he focused on communications issues. There he co-wrote a June 2007 report entitled "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio." This report suggested ways the federal government can remedy the American public's problem of listening to conservative and Christian talk radio rather than the liberal alternative. These remedies included; limiting ownership of commercial radio stations, greater local control of radio licensing and require commercial owners who fail to abide by public interest obligations to pay a fee to support public broadcasting. In a book he authored, he also asserts that the licensing fee of commercial station owners who choose to broadcast conservative talk should be equal to that station's entire operating budget and that fee go to fund public broadcasting. The effect would be two-fold; instantly doubling the expenses of such commercial stations and funding their competition.
What Mr. Lloyd doesn't understand is that there is not some huge conspiracy against liberal programming; it is simply business. Station owners want to run programming that people are listening to so that their ratings are high and they can therefore charge higher advertising rates. Station owners really don't care if that is conservative talk or liberal talk. If bird watching talk brought in tons of listeners, every bird watcher in America would have their own talk show. The simple fact of the matter is conservative talk sells, liberal talk does not; nothing personal.
However, Mark Lloyd definitely takes it personally. He cares nothing about fairness; he cares about censorship. Mr. Lloyd wants to shut down conservative talk radio. President Obama appointed him to the FCC for the purpose of quieting criticism of his agenda. From Obama's point of view, this is better than the Fairness Doctrine because at least it worked both ways. Mark Lloyd will only censor conservative talk while liberalism continues unabated.