Friday, October 19, 2007

The Nanny State and "Fairness", A Doctrine of Censorship

The Fairness Doctrine was instituted in 1949 as a Federal Communications Commission rule that required broadcasting licensees to provide balanced views on controversial issues. A Democratic Congress voted to turn it into law in 1987, but Ronald Reagan vetoed the bill and the rule was scrapped. In the bloom of freedom, conservative talk radio has dominated...Which is why Democrats want to revive the Fairness Doctrine....The Left's Gag Rule, Editorial, Investor's Business Daily, 10/18/2007

Let's say you're a station manager in a good market, say Cleveland. You're presented with a regulation that says that whenever a political point is made that an equal space of time must be allocated for an opposite point of view. You look at your schedule. You see that Rush Limbaugh has three hours of time between 11AM and 2PM. So, now, by the rules, you have to schedule three hours of time for someone else, say, Al Franken, the would-be Senator from Minnesota. You look at Rush's ratings. You look at the ratings where Franken used to work on radio. You realize that you're going to have three hours that sponsors won't buy. That's when you pick up the booklet from a new network that proposes a guaranteed sponsorship for six hours of lite rock.

This was the predicament of all middle and large market radio stations in the United States from 1949 until Reagan tossed the FCC "Fairness Doctrine". The general solution was to opt for lite rock and to abandon political talk altogether.

What the Nanny state, and its prospective President, Hillary Clinton, refuse to recognize is that market measure is a valid indication not only for products but for ideas. If a huge majority of people don't buy into a set of ideas, such as, say, those offered by socialist Democrats, the market indicator is as definitive as an election. In an election, the losers don't get "their turn". They have to figure out some other program to offer the electorate in the election. Not so in the Nanny State's conception of broadcast media! Nanny says she knows best and anybody who disagrees has to get out of the crib right now.

But in the crib, the Nanny state demands "fairness," i.e. that ideas discredited by the market of listeners deserve equal time. Imagine, if you will, that the leader of the American Nazi Party, if there is any longer such a thing, appeared under this doctrine at a major radio network, and demanded equal time to have "fair" access to the listeners. I suppose Reid and Pelosi wouldn't be that upset if Stalin had "fair" access, if only to counter all those awful stories about the leader of the great patriotic war. But it's doubtful that the vast proportion of radio listeners wouldn't tolerate a Nazi on network radio. How would a station manager respond rationally? "Pitch your crap somewhere else, fella. There's a nice soapbox over at the Garden. Try not to get yourself killed by the traffic."

Freedom of speech means anyone can say whatever they want. It does not mean that anybody else has to listen. Nor does it mean that a broadcaster has to buy an idea that he or she can't sell. The Nanny state disagrees. All ideas, like all people, are equal. Therefore, no idea can have more economic (or social) value than any other.

The natural consequence of this, as broadcasters are private businesses, is that they have historically tossed the talk and bought the rock when confronted by this doctrine. The effect was to censor points of view contrary to socialist Democrats for four decades. Do you suppose that they didn't know this would happen? Don't let it happen again. And don't forget -- the leading sponsor of the return of the "Fairness Doctrine" is Senator Hillary Clinton, the prospective President of the Nanny State.


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