Doctrine, or Fair and Balanced?
By Broadcast Democrat
Bill O'Reilly recently launched into an editorial tirade
on the O'Reilly Factor regarding the "rights of Christians
to remove any religion from schools that they find offensive."
He was responding to the ACLU's challenges to remove school
prayer and/or the pledge of allegiance. It was not in a book,
on a website, or anywhere but right on the TV, and in the
middle of what passes for news programming. Had you tuned
into it, you might have mistaken it for real news. How is
it that we find ourselves in a situation where a media outlet
as large as Fox News can be so one-sided?
Surely we have noticed the neo-conservative forces hard
at work in our modern media. As a long time member of the
media I have seen many things come to pass, and many times
I have helped decide which stories are and are not told to
you. Every day I tried to make choices that best reflected
the stories I was given to tell my local community. Not only
is this generally understood as "proper journalism" it was
also a bastion of media ethics and principles for the majority
of the existence of the FCC until the Reagan Administration.
I'm probably part of a dying breed, and it may be only a matter
of time before this concept is gone from broadcasting entirely.
The conceptual framework of media equity had been enshrined
in the Fairness Doctrine, an ethical principle of broadcasting
which was intended to provide accurate coverage of controversial
issues. Under the ideology of the "public trusteeship" of
broadcasters, an obligation of this status was to adhere to
this doctrine. The doctrine was brought forth with the goal
of preventing stations and/or broadcasters from becoming the
tools of a singular point of view.
Another measure taken by the FCC to prevent this "mouthpiece
effect" was the Mayflower Doctrine. This was meant to prevent
editorializing by the station, and was later relaxed to allow
a point-counterpoint approach. It preserved the balance between
freedom of speech, ethical journalism and "headline-hunger."
Some old school journalists and members of the media still
try to adhere to these ideals, regardless of personal feelings
and/or political affiliations. This is why we in the media
have such respect for names like John Chancellor (NBC), Walter
Kronkite (CBS), or Hugh Downing (ABC). These were people who
generally gave you the straight story without any spin. At
least, that's how we felt in the media when the Fairness Doctrine
was alive and well. Of course they'll have their own opinions;
they aren't robots. But they kept it to themselves. Think
about it; how many people do we look up to with the same reverence
or respect in our nightly news selections? Today, many of
them are interchangeable puppets.
In 1969, the Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC (395 U.S. 367)
court case tested the constitutionality of the Doctrine and
found it to be "limiting of public debate" and set in motion
the forces which eventually stripped it from broadcasting
canon in 1987.
However, this ruling was flawed. Based on the scarcity principle
of the broadcast spectrum (ie. the channels on the dial),
it did not consider the explosion of cable, Internet, and
digital radio services (like XM satellite radio). There isn't
a scarcity of media when 200 TV, 200 Radio channels, and endless
amounts of web pages await a visitor, especially when many
are neo-conservative in nature. (Please note: Republican as
it is traditionally defined is not a bad word to me. Unfortunately,
it has been overrun by social politics.)
Freed from the burden of having to air alternate or contemporary
viewpoints, the right-wing has seized on the opportunity to
broadcast and propagate itself. According to Citizens for
Independent Public Broadcasting (CIPB), "Research demonstrates
that news and public affairs substantially declined after
termination of the Fairness Doctrine, contrary to broadcaster
promises. What did increase were right-wing talk shows and
religious right ministries, now free to editorialize against
their favorite demons without fear of contradiction."
So naturally they would be opposed to the idea of the fairness
doctrine coming back into play. As a result, big media gets
bigger and bigger without the fairness doctrine, all becoming
the mouthpiece of the Neo-Conservatives. Consider this in
tandem with the recent restructuring of ownership rules by
the FCC to allow more stations to be owned by one owner, and
a dangerous trend towards media fascism is dangerously close.
Imagine a world where 35% of the national audience as a maximum
is held by one owner, so maybe three major national owners
who all contribute to the Republican party? We know CBS and
FOX do it, so that's two out of three. Frightening. In this
world, Fox News would be the least of our worries. And by
paying for it by purchasing cable service or even the goods
of their advertisers, it would get even worse. Thankfully
Congress, mainly the straight-thinking members, realized that
super-consolidation of the media is bad. However, it could
easily come up again. With the FCC as an independent regulatory
agency controlled by Republicans (Michael Powell, FCC Chairman,
is Colin Powell's son after all), it could quietly come up
and become mandate again. Think Clear Channel with a vengeance.
I can't be the only one who has witnessed firsthand the
motions of the right-wing media juggernaut as of late. As
a long time member of the broadcast world, I have seen the
media many come to depend on for news and information change
in many ways. However, I feel that a media that is more interested
in the top headlines of scandal and moneymaking has wholeheartedly
abused these trusts. Granted, at the end of the day, broadcasting
is a business meant to make money. However, it is worth noting
how regulations and laws have been gutted since the Reagan
Administration. It is very easy to see motion towards a near-fascist
representation of our world.
As a broadcast veteran, and as a moderate Democrat, I urge
you to support the return of the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting.
Not only would it better the media to be open to alternative
and contemporary viewpoints, it would also bring our media
world closer to that of what the makers of it (Sarnoff, Armstrong,
DeForest, Marconi) had intended it to be; a media used for
the betterment of public safety and public good. Instead it
has become a perverted, money making scheme that is about
the special interests of the money holders. Fairness be damned.