Some liberals are making noises about bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, a relic of a bygone era of broadcast media. This campaign is fueled by the complaint that talk radio is dominated by conservatives, and that’s just not fair. So the government needs to step in and level the playing field.
There are two reasons why this is a bad idea.
First, how could such a rule possibly be enforced with any credibility? How could you sort out all the disparate radio voices up and down the political spectrum and categorize them into tidy little boxes of “conservative” and “liberal” (or whatever)? Put Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Neal Boortz, and all the rest of the “monolithic conservative” broadcasters in the same room, and I guarantee you would have a donnybrook of a debate on all kinds of issues. (Which, of course, you wouldn’t have with a room full of liberals, who specialize in squelching debate.)
And who would be responsible for determining what is “fair” or not? Do we really trust a government bureaucracy to do a well-balanced job of that? The unenforceability of this Doctrine is one reason it was killed years ago.
Second, “fairness” is really not the issue here. That’s just a smokescreen for the real agenda, which is more sinister. As Tom Finnigan notes:
The health of any democracy rests on the freedom of people to unabashedly criticize their elected officials. While the alleged aim of speech regulation is to preserve choices for the public, a better explanation is the inherent tendency of authority to snuff out threats to its power. The desire to suppress dissent is not limited to Democrats. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) recently complained, “Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem.”
That statement should send chills down the back of any civil libertarian. Liberals may be slow to defend conservative talk radio hosts. But they should remember that talk radio is meant to entertain, as well as inform. Arguing a point in a colorful, spirited manner is a far cry from being “hateful.” More importantly, allowing the government to shape political debate could lead to the purging of all anti-Establishment opinions—left, right, or upside down—from the airwaves.
Think about it. Why is this discussion focused solely on talk radio? Why shouldn’t the Fairness Doctrine be applied to newspapers (mostly liberal) or television broadcast networks (mostly liberal)? While we’re going that direction, let’s bring publishing houses, news magazines — even internet blogs like this one — under the scope of this rule. Force every information outlet to the same standard of bland “evenness,” so that nobody, and no idea, has the upper hand. And remember, who will enforce this absolute control of information flowing to the public? Why, The Government, of course.
Which is precisely why the founding fathers enshrined freedom of speech as the bedrock of our civil liberties. What part of the first amendment to the Constitution do people not understand?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Enjoy your freedom of speech — while you still have it.