Laying the Fairness Doctrine Down to Rest

 

According to NOW on PBS,The battle against the Fairness Doctrine began in the 1980s. many stations saw the Fairness Doctrine as unnecessary. Some journalists saw the fairness doctrine a violation of the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press. Reporters felt they should be able to make their own decisions about balancing stories. In order to avoid the requirement of presenting contrasting viewpoints, some journalists chose not to cover certain controversial issues at all. In addition, the political climate of the Reagan administration favored deregulation. When the fairness doctrine came before the courts in 1987, they decided that since the doctrine was not mandated by Congress, it did not have to be enforced. FCC suspended all but the two corollary doctrines at this time.

In 1984. the Supreme Court decided that the the Fairness Doctrine did not apply to expanding communications technologies, and that the doctrine was limiting the breadth of public debate. The Supreme Court no longer saw the doctrine having any constitutionality. In the case of DFCC v. League of Women Voters, 1984. William J. Brennan, Jr. in delivering the courts majority decision noted concerns that the Fairness Doctrine was "chilling speech," and added that the Supreme Court would be "forced" to revisit the constitutionality of the doctrine if it did have "the net effect of reducing rather than enhancing speech."

Under FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler, a communications attorney serving on Ronald Reagan's campaign staff in 1976 and 1980, the commission began to repeal parts of the Fairness Doctrine. In 1985 the committee announced that the doctrine hurt the public interest and violated the First Amendment.

In 1986 controversy regarding the Fairness Doctrine returned, In Appeals Court Judges Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia concluded that the Fairness Doctrine did apply to teletext which was a television information retrieval service offering a range of text-based information, typically including national, international and sporting news, weather and TV schedules.

In addition, the political climate of the Reagan administration favored deregulation." NOW on PBS, reports,"When the fairness doctrine came before the courts in a 1987 case Meredith Corp. v. FCC, Congress decided that since the doctrine was not mandated by Congress, it did not have to be enforced. FCC suspended all but the two corollary doctrines at this time" The FCC dissolved the doctrine in August of that year.

The FCC stated: "We no longer believe that the Fairness Doctrine, as a matter of policy, serves the public interests. In making this determination, we do not question the interest of the listening and viewing public in obtaining access to diverse and antagonistic sources of information. Rather, we conclude that the Fairness Doctrine is no longer a necessary or appropriate means by which to effectuate this interest. We believe that the interest of the public in viewpoint diversity is fully served by the multiplicity of voices in the marketplace today and that the intrusion by government into the content of programming occasioned by the enforcement of the doctrine unnecessarily restricts the journalistic freedom of broadcasters. Furthermore, we find that the Fairness Doctrine, in operation actually inhibits the presentation of controversial issues of public importance to the detriment of the public and in degradation of the editorial prerogative of broadcast journalists."

In the spring of 1987, Congress attempted to contest the FCC vote and restore the Doctrine (S. 742, 100th Cong., 1st Sess. (1987)), but the legislation was vetoed by President Ronald Reagan. Another attempt to resurrect the doctrine in 1991 ran out of steam when President George W. Bush threatened another veto.

the Fairness Doctrine has a long history and there have been determined attempts by some congressmen to resurrect it, it is reasonable for the public to assume we have not seen the last of battle over the Fairness Doctrine. Some forsee pressure may prompt the FCC to reinstate the doctrine as a regulatory policy, while others suggest the current initiatives will fail; In todays times many see the Fairness Doctrine as a guiding principle of the past that will not work in todays media environment.

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