The conversation now taking place about revival of the Fairness Doctrine, buried by the Federal Communications Commission 20 years ago, shows that no idea ever dies. Even the worst ones.
The original logic of the Fairness Doctrine was that broadcast media were transmitted over limited public airwaves. Therefore, the federal government had an obligation to ensure that competing points of view were aired.
The FCC reasoned in 1987, when it closed the book on this doctrine, that with the emergence of cable to compete with broadcast, media markets had become sufficiently competitive to preclude government policing.
If true 20 years ago, how much more so now.
The Pew Research Center reports that in 2006 15 percent of Americans used the Internet as their primary source of political news, double that of the 2002 elections.
In additional Pew research on media usage, those surveyed were presented with 16 alternative sources of news. Results show that, of those most informed, all use more than one source. Half of those most informed use seven different sources.
So if the openness and competitiveness of the information market today is so clear, with cable, satellite and the Internet in addition to broadcast media, why are we talking now about the Fairness Doctrine?
There appears to be two immediate sources of provocation.
One, a number of senators are unhappy about the defeat of the recent immigration legislation and blame the setback on conservative talk-radio hosts. Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Richard Durbin of Illinois have called for reviving the Fairness Doctrine to put some kind of governor on the likes of Rush Limbaugh. Even a Republican senator, Trent Lott of Mississippi, said that "talk radio is now running America."
This is ridiculous. The Pew Center's research shows that a whopping 8 percent of those surveyed say they regularly listen to Rush. And, if he and other conservative radio hosts were "running America," liberals like Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., certainly would not be holding the reins of power on Capitol Hill today.
Lou Dobbs, to state just one other source, pounded the immigration bill every single night on his prime-time CNN news show.
Second, a new paper published by the left-of-center Center for American Progress in Washington sends out the red alert that most of talk radio today is conservative. According to them, it's 91 percent.
But they themselves note that the Fairness Doctrine is pretty meaningless, and they want more aggressive federal intervention in issuing and managing local broadcast licenses.
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