Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the first few months of the Democratic Party’s majority in the legislative branch of the government is their unhealthy fear of the conservative movement. It seems to me that instead of just taking care of substantive policy issues, they are continually being distracted by “pay back” public policies aimed at rewarding their friends or silencing powerful enemies. Various special interest groups have been the beneficiaries of Democratic generosity. Conversely, the conservative movement has been their biggest rival target.

In several cases, these turf wars have had the unfortunate side affect of jeopardizing our constitutional liberties. The fairness doctrine has been one of these policy distractions.

Two weeks ago, Mike Pence, a former radio broadcaster, made this statement after he marshaled a defense against this unfair philosophy: “Although my amendment to the Financial Services Appropriations bill passed, prohibiting any funding to the FCC for the enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine should it be resurrected, we must keep in mind that it is only a one-year moratorium on funding. While I am pleased that 309 Members of Congress supported this short-term fix, it is my hope that they will continue to stand for freedom of speech by joining me …”

Several attempts to reinstate the so called “Fairness Doctrine” recently have unnecessarily wasted untold legislative hours. If you are like me, I was curious about the history of the concept and its application. The Fairness Doctrine is an antiquated, currently defunct regulation of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which was in effect for several decades until August 1987. This policy required broadcast licensees to present controversial issues in an equal and balanced manner. On the surface this sounds good. In the best of all worlds it could mean that the little guys get a chance to let their voices be heard. Unfortunately, such doctrines are not easy to implement. In addition, these policies create a chilling affect upon the average broadcaster.

Many producers would stay away from some of the most controversial material because of the “hassle” factor of the doctrine. This would narrow the discussion we have on the air instead of balancing it.

In fact, the philosophy’s constitutionality was repeatedly questioned over the years and was eventually repealed by the FCC.

In 1985, under Chairman Mark S. Fowler, the FCC began to repeal parts of the Fairness Doctrine, declaring that the doctrine violated the First Amendment and worked against public interest.

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.