Friday, July 06, 2007

Fight to Protect Freedom of Speech on the Airwaves Just Beginning

Public reaction to the amnesty proposal has made both sides angry with talk radio.

From "Fairness Doctrine, R.I.P." by James L. Gattuaso, posted 7/5/07, at

on broadcasters. The vote almost certainly means that the long-dead rule will not be revived anytime soon. That’s good news. But the celebrations should be tempered: the real battle over media regulation is still to come, and won’t involve the words “Fairness Doctrine.”

The Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to air contrasting points of view on controversial issues. It was repealed some 20 years ago, after the commission concluded that the rule was actually stifling, rather than fostering, coverage of disputatious issues.

And history proved the FCC right. The years following repeal saw the birth of modern talk radio, a phenomenon that brings brash public debate into the homes of America daily.

Not all have been pleased with this development. The greatest successes in talk radio have been unapologetically conservative voices. And that has made talk radio made a thorn in the side of the left.

Not surprising, then, that almost immediately after liberals regained power in Congress, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio) called for restoring the long-dead Fairness Doctrine. The “idea of uninhibited exchange of ideas in the marketplace” he said, “needs to be looked at in the era of media consolidation”.

Kucinich’s call attracted much media attention, and more than a little criticism, but little was actually done to advance the idea legislatively. It probably would still be on the back burner were it not for — of all things — illegal immigration. During the acrimonious debate over immigration reform, “AM armies” roused by conservative talk-show hosts proved to be a powerful — and to many legislators, unwelcome — force.

Angered by this, a number of amnesty opponents — from both sides of the aisle lashed out against talk radio. Liberal leaders seized the moment to call for the Fairness Doctrine’s return.

It was a political mistake of the first order. Conservative radio-talk-show hosts from Rush Limbaugh to the smallest local personality hit back hard against the idea. It seemed near impossible to turn on your car radio without hearing about the issue. But it wasn’t just incensed conservative talkers who quashed the idea. No one seemed to like it. Even the normally liberal-leaning blogosphere produced few defenders of a Fairness Doctrine revival. It was just too obviously an attempt to stifle speech.

...So is it time for conservatives to celebrate? Not quite yet. The real battle over American media has hardly begun.

The odd Dennis Kucinich aside, few on the Left ever seriously thought the Fairness Doctrine could be reinstituted. Last week’s win was mostly over undefended ground. But the Left has been very active in promoting a number of much more subtle “reforms” meant to alter what broadcasters do and say.

Read the whole article.