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| | |-+  The little known history of the Fairness Doctrine, and how it changed America
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Author Topic: The little known history of the Fairness Doctrine, and how it changed America  (Read 1151 times)
Beet
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« on: November 28, 2004, 07:15:07 pm »
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Original Link: http://www.americanvoice2004.org/askdave/08askdave.html
Archive Link: https://web.archive.org/web/20041213064102/http://www.americanvoice2004.org/askdave/08askdave.html

Q. Radio, or at least talk radio has turned into all-conservative-all-the-time radio. Don't election laws require radio and TV stations to offer a balance?
A.No, they don't. And therein lies an instructive and cautionary tale.

In the earliest days of radio anybody with an antenna could send a radio signal on any frequency. Chaos resulted. The most important was poor reception from transmissions on overlapping frequencies. To allow the infant industry to mature into an important mass communication vehicle Congress passed The Radio Act of 1927. That Act declared that the airwaves belonged to the public and required that in return for an exclusive license to use a specific frequency a broadcaster had to serve the "public interest". The key public interest identified was to provide the public balanced information about issues of the day.

[snip]

In August of 1987 the FCC dissolved the fairness doctrine. It argued that the doctrine was obsolete, no longer served the public interest and imposed substantial burdens on broadcasters without generating countervailing benefits.

In 1988, Rush Limbaugh's syndicated program went on the air for the first time.

In l989 the House of Representatives again easily passed a law incorporating the fairness doctrine into legislation. When President George Bush threatened a veto the bill died in the Senate.

The impact of the elimination of the fairness doctrine was immediate and significant. In 1980 there were 75 talk radio stations in the country. By 1999 there were more than 1300. The conservative Weekly Standard recently summed up the landscape, "… 1300 talk stations, nearly all born since the repeal of the fairness doctrine and nearly all right-leaning…"
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« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2004, 08:13:41 pm »

None of this explains why there aren't left-wing talk radio stations.

To figure out why left-wing talk doesn't work well on commericial radio, you need to consider the close to 800 NPR affiliates out there.  Granted, not all of them carry the various public radio talk shows.  Granted,  NPR is not as extreme as most commercial talk radio, as it is generally center-left as opoosed to the far right one associates with commercial talk radio.  However, the existence of NPR seriously degrades the commercial viability of left-wing talk because a large portion of the potential audience is already listening elsewhere.  NPR doesn't explain by itself the preminence of the right in commercial talk radio, but it does help to explain it in part.
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« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2004, 08:21:30 pm »
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NPR may appeal to the left with its content and get viewers from potential leftist talk shows, but I find its content itself fairly balanced. It is just what they cover (art and culture) is more likely to appeal to liberals than conservatives.
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« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2004, 08:28:57 pm »
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The "Fairness Doctrine" is a direct infringement upon free speech.

The air waves are not owned by the people. Individuals have the right to the benefits of broadcasting. There has to be licensing and order, but government should stay out of the content.
« Last Edit: November 28, 2004, 08:31:40 pm by Philip »Logged
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« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2004, 08:30:46 pm »
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None of this explains why there aren't left-wing talk radio stations.

To figure out why left-wing talk doesn't work well on commericial radio, you need to consider the close to 800 NPR affiliates out there.  Granted, not all of them carry the various public radio talk shows.  Granted,  NPR is not as extreme as most commercial talk radio, as it is generally center-left as opoosed to the far right one associates with commercial talk radio.  However, the existence of NPR seriously degrades the commercial viability of left-wing talk because a large portion of the potential audience is already listening elsewhere.  NPR doesn't explain by itself the preminence of the right in commercial talk radio, but it does help to explain it in part.

************

Good point, Ernest. The nature of the imbalance in talk radio is an entirely different question than the conditions that allowed bias in the broadcast media. Why did almost exclusively conservatives enter the talk radio market after 1987, especially after the early 1990s when it became apparent that it was a highly successful medium?

The only reason NPR has captured a lot of the liberal market is because they are the only major show out there that is not conservative. Yes they lean more to the liberal side than conservative. However, they generally do not see themselves as primarily a political commentary or a political station, or primarily out to spread the liberal viewpoint, which is what differentiates most of the syndicated talk radio shows ont he right.

So were liberals just not interested? Did the owners of the bandwidth licences or the distributors of the licences have some ideological bent themselves? I have no idea.

In addition, not mentioned by the article, another thing that made possible the growth of talk radio was the migration of former music channels to FM freeding up AM bands for talk.

I have two or three questions however:

1 Why did Clinton not appoint FCC commissioners who would reinstate the fairness doctrine? In fact, why did he appoint Michael Powell, who has some rather extreme deregulationary policies opposed by most of Congress?

2 Why did Congress not pass fairness doctrine legislation in 1993 after Bush Sr.'s veto threat had been removed?

Anyone who can answer these two questions is a genius.
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« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2004, 08:33:02 pm »
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Even though keeping the Fairness Act would have helped my party, I am against it, because it infringes on free speech.

NPR may lean liberal, but it's not as if they have any nutjobs on who scream about how Bush murdered and raped hundreds of people. They seem to interview a lot of foriegners, and foriengers generally lean left.
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« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2004, 08:35:24 pm »
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None of this explains why there aren't left-wing talk radio stations.

To figure out why left-wing talk doesn't work well on commericial radio, you need to consider the close to 800 NPR affiliates out there.  Granted, not all of them carry the various public radio talk shows.  Granted,  NPR is not as extreme as most commercial talk radio, as it is generally center-left as opoosed to the far right one associates with commercial talk radio.  However, the existence of NPR seriously degrades the commercial viability of left-wing talk because a large portion of the potential audience is already listening elsewhere.  NPR doesn't explain by itself the preminence of the right in commercial talk radio, but it does help to explain it in part.

************

Good point, Ernest. The nature of the imbalance in talk radio is an entirely different question than the conditions that allowed bias in the broadcast media. Why did almost exclusively conservatives enter the talk radio market after 1987, especially after the early 1990s when it became apparent that it was a highly successful medium?

The only reason NPR has captured a lot of the liberal market is because they are the only major show out there that is not conservative. Yes they lean more to the liberal side than conservative. However, they generally do not see themselves as primarily a political commentary or a political station, or primarily out to spread the liberal viewpoint, which is what differentiates most of the syndicated talk radio shows ont he right.

So were liberals just not interested? Did the owners of the bandwidth licences or the distributors of the licences have some ideological bent themselves? I have no idea.

In addition, not mentioned by the article, another thing that made possible the growth of talk radio was the migration of former music channels to FM freeding up AM bands for talk.

I have two or three questions however:

1 Why did Clinton not appoint FCC commissioners who would reinstate the fairness doctrine? In fact, why did he appoint Michael Powell, who has some rather extreme deregulationary policies opposed by most of Congress?

2 Why did Congress not pass fairness doctrine legislation in 1993 after Bush Sr.'s veto threat had been removed?

Anyone who can answer these two questions is a genius.

A lot of it comes down to the fact that by nature, most liberals don't want one guy telling them what to believe, how to vote, etc. And that's what political talk radio is.

Perhaps Clinton wanted to seem Centrist, and not appoint to many liberals. And perhaps the Democratic congress sensed the Gingrich revolution coming (doubtful) and they were busy getting more important stuff done. Who knows?
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« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2004, 08:37:20 pm »
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Hearing one guy's opinion and having him tell you how to vote are two very different things. Was my reading your post an example of you telling me what to think? Talk radio is a giant conversation, much like this forum.

The direct suppression of political speech would have been an outrage. A Supreme Court challenge would have been the next course of action.
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« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2004, 08:42:06 pm »
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Quote
A lot of it comes down to the fact that by nature, most liberals don't want one guy telling them what to believe, how to vote, etc. And that's what political talk radio is.

Perhaps Clinton wanted to seem Centrist, and not appoint to many liberals. And perhaps the Democratic congress sensed the Gingrich revolution coming (doubtful) and they were busy getting more important stuff done. Who knows?

Powell does not seem to be a centrist. The new regulations he tried to push through (the 3 R commissioners supported, 2 D commissioners opposed) in 2003 were opposed by 80% of Congress or more, as well as groups as diverse as the NRA and NOW.

Anyways, if someone has the answer, please post. I did some research on this myself but all I could find was something about how Hollings co-authorized a fairness doctrine bill in 1993 but it did not pass.

Regarding your point about the nature of liberals, it may be true, but seems to be mostly a recent "generation x" phenomenom. The liberals of the past often rallied around charismatic leaders and showed ability to organize themselves. And certainly they have no monopoly on individualism... in fact the one who argues that conservatives are more individualistic by nature due to ideology might have the upper hand.

Another thing--  you seem to oppose the fairness doctrine (I'm undecided on it) yet also deride the consequences of its reppeal (one-sided talk radio).

Without a fairness doctrine, you will get these guys up there with their shows, which you consider "telling people how to think, vote etc". In that case, wouldn't it be better to have it coming from both sides rather than just one? On the other hand, if the entire medium is somehow inherently flawed because it's biased from the single host, the only way to correct that would be the reimpose the fairness doctrine. So it's kind of a catch-22.
« Last Edit: November 28, 2004, 08:47:00 pm by Beet »Logged

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« Reply #9 on: November 28, 2004, 08:44:36 pm »
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Well, I did post. I don't think they would have gotten away with it. I think the Supreme Court would have struck it down.
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« Reply #10 on: November 28, 2004, 08:49:12 pm »
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Well, I did post. I don't think they would have gotten away with it. I think the Supreme Court would have struck it down.

I'm not sure they had any way of knowing that, especially since Clinton appointed 2 justices in his first two years. Also, one source mentioned that an attempt to revive the bill in 1991 failed in the senate because of Bush Sr.'s veto threat, when the makeup of the court was almost the same as it would have been in 1993.

Also, the Court held up the regulation in the Red Lion case, even when there was no Congressional bill supporting it.
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« Reply #11 on: November 28, 2004, 08:57:49 pm »
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Since we're really just talking about one guy here, how many listeners did Rush have after his first four years?
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« Reply #12 on: November 28, 2004, 09:07:56 pm »
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Since we're really just talking about one guy here, how many listeners did Rush have after his first four years?

Do not know. But by 1993 he was definitely pretty big.
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« Reply #13 on: November 28, 2004, 09:13:46 pm »
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Then I imagine there would be a huge backlash.
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« Reply #14 on: November 28, 2004, 09:23:04 pm »
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Quote
A lot of it comes down to the fact that by nature, most liberals don't want one guy telling them what to believe, how to vote, etc. And that's what political talk radio is.

Perhaps Clinton wanted to seem Centrist, and not appoint to many liberals. And perhaps the Democratic congress sensed the Gingrich revolution coming (doubtful) and they were busy getting more important stuff done. Who knows?

Powell does not seem to be a centrist. The new regulations he tried to push through (the 3 R commissioners supported, 2 D commissioners opposed) in 2003 were opposed by 80% of Congress or more, as well as groups as diverse as the NRA and NOW.

Anyways, if someone has the answer, please post. I did some research on this myself but all I could find was something about how Hollings co-authorized a fairness doctrine bill in 1993 but it did not pass.

Regarding your point about the nature of liberals, it may be true, but seems to be mostly a recent "generation x" phenomenom. The liberals of the past often rallied around charismatic leaders and showed ability to organize themselves. And certainly they have no monopoly on individualism... in fact the one who argues that conservatives are more individualistic by nature due to ideology might have the upper hand.

Another thing--  you seem to oppose the fairness doctrine (I'm undecided on it) yet also deride the consequences of its reppeal (one-sided talk radio).

Without a fairness doctrine, you will get these guys up there with their shows, which you consider "telling people how to think, vote etc". In that case, wouldn't it be better to have it coming from both sides rather than just one? On the other hand, if the entire medium is somehow inherently flawed because it's biased from the single host, the only way to correct that would be the reimpose the fairness doctrine. So it's kind of a catch-22.

I oppose the Fairness Act a restriction of free speech. I don't like how talk radio has evolved but I don't think there is anything that can be done about it, aside from providing better alternatives.
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« Reply #15 on: November 29, 2004, 12:16:15 am »
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The reasons why Clinton and Congress did not pass a law to reinstate the fairness doctrine in or after 1993 are simple. 

1.   The focus of the President and Congress for the first two years of the Clinton administration was health care. 
2.   The Democrat Party did not see the impact that talk radio was beginning to have prior to the 1994 election.
3.   After the 1994 election any attempt to reinstate the fairness doctrine would have been seen as a personal attack on Rush Limbaugh and the other conservative talk show host that where emerging at the time.

As to the question of why liberal talk radio has not taken off the answers get more complex. 

First you must look at why conservative talk radio has been so successful.  When Rush Limbaugh first came on the air it was for many the first time that they got to hear their opinions in the media.  This became the one place a conservative could go to listen to conservative ideas, and for many it was the first time that they realized how many people shared the same opinions.  So people would get read the paper or watch TV for the news, but then they would listen to Rush for his, and his callers, take on the issues.  It is disingenuous to say that people that listen to talk radio vote the way they are told to.  Both my father and I listen to Rush in 1996, we both voted for the Libertarian candidate.  Rush, and other conservative hosts, do one other thing that makes them successful, they entertain.  This is so important, talk radio hosts are not news people, they are commentators and entertainers. I listen to Glenn Beck almost every day, I don’t do it because I agree with everything he has to say, I do it because he is fun to listen to.

The Second thing you have to look at is what has caused liberal talk radio shows to fail.  In 1996 I lived in Virginia, I would listen to Rush in the afternoon, followed by a liberal talk show host.  I believe his show was nationally syndicated.  Unfortunately I do not remember his name, because he was only on the air for about six months on that station.   Currently Air America has liberal talk hosts, but it is failing.  So why are these shows failing.  It is not because of any bias on the part of the station owners, if that was the case then most music DJ would not be on the air.  There are two main causes.  The first is format, the second is audience demographics.  Most liberal talk show hosts that I have listen to are either spend almost there entire show attacking conservatives and there ideas, or are very boring.  It is true that some conservative talk show hosts can be just as vicious, but the majority do not spend there whole shows acting that way.  As far as the boring ones go, have you ever tried to listen to Al Franken talk politics for an hour, it is almost painfully boring.  These hosts tend to only talk about politics and try to give to much information.  But it is the second problem that really causes the down fall of liberal talk radio shows.  Most liberals that I know, and I know a lot of liberals, choose to spend there radio listen time on music.  In fact at 3 to 8 hours a week, I spend more time listen to NPR then almost any of the liberals I know, even the politically active ones.  They do not want to hear people talk during drive time, or if they do they want to hear shock jocks. 
By the way, there is a successful liberal radio talk show host, Alan Colmes.  If liberals want to find a way to be successful in talk radio they only need to look to him as a pattern.   
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« Reply #16 on: November 29, 2004, 08:38:45 am »
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What it boils down to is money.  People want to listen to conservative talk show, and not the liberal ones.  This translates into advertiser dollars.  No listeners, no advertisers' dollars, the liberal shows get canned, because they don't produce a profit.

As with any company, if a product doesn't make a profit, you get rid of it and find one that does.
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