Fairness Doctrine an Essential Tool
Thanks for all you do to open and keep open America’s lines of communication. FAIR’s Extra! is itself an important channel of information on which I and many rely. Jim Naureckas’ “Public Media and the Decommodification of the News” and Julie Hollar’s “Putting the Public Back in Public Media” (11/09) provide a good cataloging of problems with getting “public” media to serve the public interest. But, of course, all radio and television was originally required by law to be “broadcast in the public interest.” That law, the Communications Act of 1934, is still on the books, though amended.
And, in implementing it, the Fairness Doctrine was adopted by the FCC in 1949, as Aura Bogado pointed out in “Right-Wing Witch Hunt Reaches FCC” (11/09). I was one of many who used the related, though misnamed, Equal Time provisions to provide another view when local television stations favored one candidate over another. It was an imperfect tool—to go on the air with limited time to prepare and to compete with the slick presentations offered by the professionals—but it was watched, and I believe it had a considerable balancing effect on what viewers saw and heard in a political campaign.
More importantly, it had a chilling effect on the amount of imbalance and propagandizing the channel or network was willing to put on in the first place. This chilling effect, of course, was cited by the opponents of the Fairness Doctrine as a reason for getting rid of it, but that was more of a cover for their desire to have their way with our airways.
I have been disappointed by progressive media critics who ignore the Fairness Doctrine, and its possible restoration, as an essential tool in providing more balance to the airways and to the nation’s political dialogue. FAIR and others have rightly pointed out that use of the Internet—especially if it is kept open and free—public television, public access and the like can go a long way toward informing the electorate.
But—and this is critical—these tools cannot go far enough. We must have a Fairness Doctrine, of some kind, because millions of Americans do not use the Internet, either at all or for news. Many communities do not have public access programming. And PBS has almost abdicated to the influences of corporate sponsors and right-wing influences.
Furthermore, even if everyone had access to Internet news and more balanced local access broadcasting, we would still have the problem of a growing chasm in our body politic, as those on the right watch programs that favor the right, those on the left watch the few programs that favor that perspective, and those two groups then develop very different worldviews. Dialogue becomes almost impossible.
We have allowed right-wing commentary to become a cancer in the bloodstream of our nation’s communications. We see the results daily. We must combat it, in my view, if our nation is to survive. Just because it would be very difficult to restore a Fairness Doctrine to our media doesn’t mean we should abandon the effort. To do that is to abandon millions to the dangers of communication by propaganda, shouting, accusation and ultimately violence against those who disagree. All progressive media critics need to unite in a common effort to restore a Fairness Doctrine, and restore our radio and television to the public interest.
A Prisoner’s View
I would first like to say your investigative journalism is spot on. I don’t know about you or your readers, but it is maddening to sit and watch “news” programs or read “news” magazines and papers and know it’s all corporate/political propaganda and not a shred is actual news.
How is it that 1 percent of Americans can dictate how the other 99 percent of Americans live? Because they own the media we all watch and read! That’s how. We all as Americans need to let go of our obsessions with text-messaging, video games, emailing and everything that’s being called “progress.”
I bring this up because I am a California state prisoner and don’t have these “luxuries.” And I’m glad! I say this because we have time. Time to pay attention to what’s going on, and time to discuss and debate. Our most talked-about discussion is why doesn’t the “free” society see what’s so obvious? It’s because you are all too busy with your cell phones, iPods, Internet and PlayStations to see the blatant manipulation created through corporate media.
Ask your friends, neighbors, co-workers (that is if you still even have a job) what they know about the following:
- Why don’t the media investigate and report on the massive amounts of non-biodegradable trash that fills our oceans and land, that will pollute and toxify all living things, including us, for thousands of years to come?
- Or how about the fact that the world is running out of water, with reports coming in all the time of extreme water shortages, including the state of emergency declared by our California governor?
- Or how about the fact that many of the rich, including politicians, have held or still hold offshore accounts for decades that cost the U.S. government billions in uncollected taxes?
I’m prisoner #P17900, and I know this. No thanks to ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and every other bought-and-paid-for corporate-owned media outlet.
Crescent City, Calif.
Correction: The article “Alter-native Cartoonists Nearing the Punch Line?” (10/09) erroneously claimed Creative Loafing was in bankruptcy proceedings. In fact, the company was taken over in bankruptcy court by its chief creditor, Atalaya Capital Management, in August (Daily Loaf, 8/25/09).