Will political talk radio lead to the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine?

During the course of the just concluded presidential race we listened to members of Congress threaten to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine regarding the FCC rules of the airwaves. This pending action is due to hard hitting conservative talk radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, whose EIB network show is “the most listened to radio talk show in America, broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide,” and Sean Hannity whose nationally-syndicated radio program, The Sean Hannity Show, airs throughout the United States on ABC Radio Networks.”

If the Supreme’s, and I am not referring to Diana Ross and friends, permit Congress to impose restrictions on free speech as guaranteed by our First Amendment rights we may be forced to offer “electronic sidewalks” where an opposing viewpoint must be provided.  As of now this obligation does not extend to satellite radio, the Internet or cable TV. There is no doubt the democratic controlled Congress has FOX News in their crosshairs as they may attempt to regulate political free speech.

One famous case regarding the “fairness doctrine” was

“The Federal Communications Commission has for many years imposed on radio and television broadcasters the requirement that discussion of public issues be presented on broadcast stations, and that each side of those issues must be given fair coverage. This is known as the fairness doctrine, which originated very early in the history of broadcasting and has maintained its present outlines for some time. It is an obligation whose content has been defined in a long series of FCC rulings in particular cases, and which is distinct from the statutory requirement of § 315 of the Communications Act  that equal time be allotted all qualified candidates for public office. Two aspects of the fairness doctrine, relating to personal attacks in the context of controversial public issues and to political editorializing, were codified more precisely in the form of FCC regulations in 1967. The two cases before us now, which were decided separately below, challenge the constitutional and statutory bases of the doctrine and component rules. Red Lion  involves the application of the fairness doctrine to a particular broadcast, and RTNDA arises as an action to review the FCC’s 1967 promulgation of the personal attack and political editorializing regulations, which were laid down after the Red Lion litigation had begun.
The Red Lion Broadcasting Company is licensed to operate a Pennsylvania radio station, WGCB. On November 27, 1964, WGCB carried a 15-minute broadcast by the Reverend Billy James Hargis as part of a “Christian Crusade” series. A book by Fred J. Cook entitled “Goldwater — Extremist on the Right” was discussed by Hargis, who said that Cook had been fired by a newspaper for making false charges against city officials; that Cook had then worked for a Communist-affiliated publication; that he had defended Alger Hiss and attacked J. Edgar Hoover and the Central Intelligence Agency; and that he had now written a “book to smear and destroy Barry Goldwater.”  When Cook heard of the broadcast he concluded that he had been personally attacked and demanded free reply time, which the station refused. After an exchange of letters among Cook, Red Lion, and the FCC, the FCC declared that the Hargis broadcast constituted a personal attack on Cook; that Red Lion had failed to meet its obligation under the fairness doctrine to send a tape, transcript, or summary of the broadcast to Cook and offer him reply time; and that the station must provide reply time whether or not Cook would pay for it. On review in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit,  the FCC’s position was upheld as constitutional and otherwise proper.”

A few months ago John Armor, counsel to the American Civil Rights Union, penned the following.
Anybody Remember the Red Lion Case?”

“Those who are arguing for reestablishment of the Fairness Doctrine have not done their homework.  The Doctrine survived in Red Lion in 1969, because of the “scarcity” of broadcast outlets, as opposed to print media ones.  Justice White was about twenty years behind the technology curve when he wrote that decision.

In the 21st Century no one who pays attention could say that electronic media are scarce without laughing.  It is newspapers that are becoming scarce, because in what Thomas Jefferson called “the marketplace of ideas,” the electronic media are bringing more ideas, more quickly, to the public than print media can possibly match.

The Fairness Doctrine might somehow be reestablished, by Congress, or by appointments to the Federal Communication Commission by a new President.  Either would be a serious mistake.  But, as long as the Supreme Court remains capable of assessing facts, and honest in its approach to the First Amendment, even if the Democratic Congress could revive it, the Fairness Doctrine will remain legally dead.”

Juice Readers. Will reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine require Orange Juice founder Art Pedroza to offer equal time and space for Santa Ana City manager David Ream or Mayor Miguel Pulido?

I hope we don’t go down that road. We surely do not wish to see government regulation of the airwaves. It beings back memories of Pravda (“The Truth”) the leading newspaper of the Soviet Union and an official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party between 1912 and 1991.

Our Founding Fathers very First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads in part “Congress shall make no law….abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, etc”

Speech compulsion should not be on the table. If you don’t like what Sean Hannity has to say, be it on KABC or FOX News, change stations or shut off your radio/TV sets. Having over 100 TV channels to select from you do have other choices be it network, satellite or cable TV and a full range of AM and FM radio stations.

About Larry Gilbert