The 'Fairness Doctrine'

The Fairness Doctrine was a regulation of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that required owners of broadcast licenses to present both sides of controversial issues considered to be in the public interest. It went into effect in 1949 when radio and especially TV broadcasting was limited. Failure to comply risked a challenge to the owner's license. 

Two stations lost their license, one temporarily. WLBT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi lost its license in 1969 due to bias against the Civil Rights Movement. The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the license of WJIM-TV in Lansing, Michigan in 1973 on allegations it prevented a number of prominent political figures from appearing on it’s station. A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) judge ordered the license revoked in 1981, but a three-member review board at the FCC restored their license in 1982.

The fact was that the “Fairness Doctrine” was unevenly enforced because it was a political issue. The main stream media - ABC, NBC, CBS - was extremely biased against the conservative point of view but their license was never threatened. President Nixon and Vice-President Agnew became folk heros to middle America by criticizing the liberal bias of the network news in the early 1970s.

The FCC eliminated the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. Reagan and his appointed commissioners argued that The Fairness Doctrine violated broadcasters' First Amendment free speech rights by giving government a measure of editorial control over stations. The Fairness Doctrine actually prevented, rather then encouraged, political commentary on radio and TV. Since any individual could file a complaint with the FCC, it was better to not get involved at all then risk your license. Reagan opposed giving politicians and bureaucrats control over taking a station off the air as this was uncomfortably similar to what was done in dictatorships. For example, Venezuela’s fascist leader Hugo Chavez used alleged violation of government regulations to take EVERY radio and TV station that had programing opposing Chavez taken off the air waves. Reagan believed it was better - and much safer for freedom of speech - for the market place of ideas to decide what was broadcast. It you don’t like the programing on a station, change the station.

There is no sinister conspiracy to bar liberals from the air waves. Many left-wing radio shows started but most never lasted because very few people listened to them. The country still had all the newspapers and network news - the vast majority being very biased against the conservative point of view. 

It’s been over 25 years since the “Fairness Doctrine” was abolished and political discussion on the airwaves has exploded. So the constant cries of the political left to bring back the “Fairness Doctrine” shows they are not interested in a fair exchange of ideas, rather they want to stifle opposing points of view.