New York Congressman Proposes Assault On Free Speechby Doug Mataconis
Maurice Hinchey, representing the 22nd District of New York, is proposing something called the Media Ownership Reform Act. What it really should be called is the Death Of Free Speech Act.
Here are a few of the highlights:
Our airwaves are a precious and limited commodity that belong to the general public. As such, they are regulated by the government. From 1949 to 1987, a keystone of this regulation was the Fairness Doctrine, an assurance that the American audience would be guaranteed sufficiently robust debate on controversial and pressing issues. Despite numerous instances of support from the U.S. Supreme Court, President Reagan’s FCC eliminated the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, and a subsequent bill passed by Congress to place the doctrine into federal law was then vetoed by Reagan.
MORA would amend the 1934 Communications Act to restore the Fairness Doctrine and explicitly require broadcast licensees to provide a reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance.
Isn’t that what talk radio really is ? People call in and voice their opinions on the issues of the day. Yes, it’s true that most of the successful talk radio hosts lean to the right, but that is a reflection of two things; one is that the hosts are largely a reflection of their audience, and the other is that the truly successful hosts are the one’s that are entertaining. The reason Air America failed isn’t because of some vast conspiracy against the left, it’s because their on air personalities were just plain bad.
What the Fairness Doctrine really did when it was in effect, though, was give broadcasters an incentive to steer clear of controversial political topics. Spending the day programming talk shows about investments, or gardening or other things that really aren’t subjects of controversy is a heck of a lot easier than trying to ensure that every conceivable viewpoint on the subject of, say, the Iraq War, has an opportunity to be heard ?
Alex Harrison at Human Events puts forward the problem nicely:
Putting aside the flagrant violations of the First Amendment, compliance with a new Fairness Doctrine would be a nightmare. What constitutes an opposing viewpoint? Who gets to present that viewpoint? In our contentious and diverse world of politics, there are few issues which only have two sides. Is Cindy Sheehanâ€™s view on the Iraq War the same as Hillary Clintonâ€™s? Does Hillary get to come back and revise her opinion (again) after the latest poll? Is the naked â€œcut and runâ€ policy of John Murtha the same as the nuanced â€œredeploymentâ€ of Monsieur Kerry? I suppose it depends upon what the meaning of the word â€œisâ€ isâ€¦.
Renewing the Fairness Doctrine would not bring about the paradise of intellectual debate that it’s proponents dream of, instead it would bring the days of hard-hitting political talk radio to an end. Then again, maybe that’s exactly what it’s proponents want.