Public Support for “Fairness” Doctrine Disgusting

There’s just not a whole lot to say about it.

41% of Americans believe that the government should “require all radio and television stations to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal political commentary.” Many even want to extend the doctrine, which would essentially enforce points of view on the listening market rather than letting listeners decide, on the internet, which is even more absurd.

I find this poll result almost as upsetting as the high number of Americans who believe in old-school creationism, or can’t find their own country on a map of the world.

It is hard to know exactly how people interepreted the poll questions. Perhaps they didn’t entirely understand what they were agreeing with: perhaps they only meant that they wished media sources as a whole were more balanced and thoughtful. I’m all for that. But the way to achieve it is by promoting, recommending, and endorsing with your feet those voices that take the time to find reason, evenhandedness, and balance.

Forcing by regulation show by show, site by site balance, on the other hand, is as silly as demanding that two people having an argument in person each give equal time defending the other guys position. The whole point of the liberal scientific method, the whole point of free speech and open debate, is that we hash things out in adversarial contest. It isn’t that we try to artificially create balance: we find it in the midst of neverending debate. It’s a collective, society-wide process.

The other faulty assumption I suspect is at work here is the idea that there needs to be “balance” across every single medium of communication. But there’s nothing wrong with the fact that conservatives happen to prefer radio, and liberals newspapers, and so on. The point is the views expressed and people’s free access to them, not how those views happen to be transmitted.

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8 Responses to Public Support for “Fairness” Doctrine Disgusting

  1. Tim Rueb says:

    Agreed. Let the market decide. When was the last time we saw a good decision come out of Washington DC anyways.

    As for sources or venues of information, , how many conservative newspapers are there in the US compared to left leaning ones?

  2. Bad says:

    Certainly some: the Times, the Journal, the Sun, and so on (not even counting rags like the Post). But papers do seem to be more favored by liberals, for whatever demographic or preference reasons. And that’s how markets of ideas work. No, cable news may not be perfectly balanced. But no one is forced to watch cable news: they can read blogs instead. Or something else. If they want to hear more of a view, then get more people to listen to it and support it financially.

    The Fairness Doctrine is basically the Sour Grapes doctrine. It’s people who can’t find a market for their ideas where they want one, who can’t get people to listen to them when the people have a choice, demanding that the government create a venue artificially.

    And what’s really unfortune today is that even some Republicans seem to be wavering on what is normally a primarily Democratic brand of insanity: the article even quotes Trent Lott, of all people, whining about talk radio pushing Republicans on immigration issues.

  3. Ubu Walker says:

    The original fairness doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views; it only required that contrasting viewpoints be presented because use of the radio and TV spectrum was viewed as the private use of a publicly owned utility. (From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairness_Doctrine)

    Of course, the doctrine became unwieldy with various notice requirements and people suing to get their own point of view on the air. It was eventually found to be restraining free speech, and the FCC gutted the entire rule. It was never held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court when applied to radio, but was found so for newspapers and emerging electronic technologies, such as the internet.

    Our government, and by extension, all the people of the US, own the airwaves. They are leased and licensed to private groups. The government has a substantial interest in making sure that the airwaves are used for the good of all Americans and that its licensees are presenting high quality speech. But it must do so in the least detrimental way to free speech. Speech should not be chilled. This is known in legal circles as “Strict Scrutiny”.

    For the most part, almost all talk shows would meet the requirements of the doctrine. They routinely have people who call up and oppose the host. The host might shout them down and call them an idiot…or worse…nothing unfair about that. News shows for the most part present contrasting views as a matter of course. The argument over the doctrine seems academic at best, since it is followed in practice, even without the law in place.

    What should be prohibited, IMHO, is the knowing dissemination of blatantly false news/enemy (terrorist) propaganda and hate speech. The government has an interest in having its citizens well informed and not lied to about the facts and to prevent the spread of enemy propaganda. It would be an extremely high bar. Hate speech (very narrowly defined as calls to violence and intimidation of minority groups) could be limited under the 13th/14th Amendments.

  4. Bad says:

    There is no intrinsic reason that the government has to own the airwaves anymore than the government has to own every parcel of land. It makes sense for the government to play a role largely because it needs to help sustain a somewhat artificial regime of property rights for a resource that otherwise anyone could use (and thus everyone by the same measure of interference, would not be able to use very well).

    Nothing about that managerial role, however, means that the government has some natural interest in regulating the content of speech in those areas anymore than anywhere else. The government enforces land property rights too, which are an exclusive and limited resource: that doesn’t mean it makes sense for it to determine what you can or cannot say on your own property.

    Back when the airwaves were one of the only real forms of electronic and immediate transmission of information, and a very bandwidth limited one at that, the doctrine might have made more sense. But we live today in a world where “contrasting viewpoints” are omnipresent and easily available to anyone that wants to hear them.

    I certainly detest the unbalanced and omnipresently partisan nature of, say, FoxNews or talk radio. But nothing about the existence of FoxNews or talk radio crowds out the availability of opposing viewpoints. They are both merely very very successful at attracting willing audiences, while similarly partisan liberal efforts are not. That’s tough luck for liberal efforts. But it’s not tough luck for liberal audiences. Those efforts struggle because liberals aren’t as interested in those sorts of media, for whatever reason. That doesn’t mean, however, that liberal audiences are without any contrasting sources of information and debate.

    Let’s imagine a worst case scenario in which an insane billionare was able to buy every broadcast station, TV and radio, in the country, and devoted all of this bandwidth, 24/7, to broadcasting the sights and sounds of his toilet. No one would watch it, and it would indeed be an unfortunate waste of a useful resource. but life would go on. Debate would go on. The internet, phones, newspapers, and everything else would go on.

    As for the waste… well, does the government have an interest in making sure every possible resource is used to its fullest? That would certainly be a big break from its normal behavior, which allows people to own land, but not make use of every last inch, or most scandalous of all, allows people to be unemployed, wasting countless hours of labor, which is arguably the most precious natural resource in human society.

  5. Rebel Dreams says:

    >>Let’s imagine a worst case scenario in which an insane billionare was able to buy every broadcast station, TV and radio, in the country, and devoted all of this bandwidth, 24/7, to broadcasting the sights and sounds of his toilet.

    I think you’ve stumbled upon Murdoch’s Plan…

  6. […] to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal political commentary” as opposed it. Bad has a good round-up of the reasons why this is insane. “Fairness” is a hard thing to […]

  7. sandrar says:

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