Conservative talk radio hosts and bloggers have been discussing this ominous threat for months, maybe years. The Fairness Doctrine, suspended by President Ronald Reagan, was seen by many as an unconstitutional infringement upon the freedom of speech.
The Fairness Doctrine was upheld in 1969 by the U. S. Supreme Court.
The court ruled: “A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a…frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the Government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others…. It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.” (U.S. Supreme Court, upholding the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 1969.)
Despite the Court’s opinion, the Fairness Doctrine was still viewed as a strike against freedom of speech. Reagan’s stoppage of the Fairness Act in 1987 opened the door to unregulated free speech over the air waves. As a result, national celebrities such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and many others saw a meteoric rise in their careers. Many observers of this phenomenon now fear that Barack Obama’s administration will reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, purportedly to curtail the likely prospect of his programs and policies coming under withering fire by his opponents on the conservative side.
Many of his supporters are calling for the return to the Fairness Doctrine, but such an overt move by Obama would undoubtedly unleash a barrage of criticism against him. This is not to say that it can’t or won’t be done. Rather than a frontal assault, the tactic chosen to do it will probably be far more subtle. Obama’s experience as a “community organizer” taught him some profound lessons on getting controversial policies passed. He knows that working locally and regionally works better than picking a national fight that would immediately become a huge polarizing issue for the country. Using the diversity and equality arguments as the rationale for a move, many believe that he will quietly infiltrate local markets where the case can be made for fairness with little resistance.
These speculations are not without foundation. Barack Obama’s ideas about this issue have already been articulated by Obama himself. The following excerpt from a public hearing held by the Federal Communications Commission not only reveals his idea, it also tips his hand on the implementation process. Read carefully.
(Run the reference yourself at the following address:
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
PUBLIC HEARING ON MEDIA OWNERSHIP
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2007
The above-entitled matter convened at 4:25 p.m. at the Operation Push National Headquarters, 930 East 50th Street, Chicago, Illinois, Chairman Kevin J. Martin, presiding.
MEMBERS OF THE COMMISSION PRESENT:
CHAIRMAN KEVIN J. MARTIN
COMMISSIONER MICHAEL J. COPPS
COMMISSIONER JONATHAN S . ADELSTEIN
COMMISSIONER DEBORAH TAYLOR TATE
COMMISSIONER ROBERT M. MCDOWELL
LOUIS J. SIGALOS, Chief, Consumer Affairs & Outreach
CONSTANCE A. HOWARD, Illinois State Representative,
SUSAN SATTER, Assistant Attorney General, Illinois
State Attorney General’s Office
Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr.
(Beginning on Page 21, Line 5)
CHAIRMAN MARTIN: I believe we also have an opening statement that’s going to be read by Ken Bennett on behalf of Senator Barack Obama.
MR. BENNETT: Good afternoon. My name is Ken Bennett, I am State Director for Senator Barack Obama, who regrets not being able to be here today at this very important hearing, but asks that I read this statement for him. <Begin reading>
“I want to thank the — Chairman Martin and Commissioners for holding the Commission’s fifth official public hearing on the nation’s media ownership rules in Chicago. I want to thank the Rainbow Push Coalition for also hosting this discussion.
Senator Durbin and I specifically requested that the Federal Commission — the Communication Commission, the FCC, hold a public hearing in this diverse city to deal with the very important issues dealing with — that we’re dealing with today. I apologize for not being here in person to deliver this statement, but I want all of you to know how important I think it is that we have this national inclusive open transparent discussion on the government’s responsibility to ensure that the nation’s media market place reflects the diversity, and opinions, and views, and meets the needs of the local communities and ensures fair competition. As all of you know, the FCC has in place a number of rules that regulate the ownership of radio and television broadcast properties. These rules help to prevent excessive consolidation and were created to promote the public interest.
Under the Telecommunications Act, the FCC is required to review the media ownership rules every four years to determine if the rules remain necessary and are serving the public interest. I believe that the nation’s media ownership rules remain necessary and are critical to the public interest. We should be doing more to encourage diversity in ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets, and expression of diverse view points, and establish greater clarity in the public interest obligations of public broadcasters occupying our nation’s spectrum.
But under the leadership of the previous chairman, the FCC promoted the concept of consolidation over diversity. In 2003, the FCC attempted to, over the dissent of two Democratic Commissioners, to relax the nation’s media ownership rules. Millions of comments poured in from the average citizen asking the FCC to retain the rules and not to allow for more consolidation. Fortunately, the Commission’s attempt to relax regulations was rejected by the 3rd Circuit.
Instead of greater consolidation, I fully endorse a call for new rules promoting greater coverage of local issues, greater responsiveness of broadcasters to the communities they operate in. I also believe that broadcasters’ license renewal requests, the periodic review required to ensure that broadcasters are complying with their public interest obligations to local communities for using the public spectrum, should require greater FCC scrutiny and public input should occur more frequently.
MR. BENNETT: In the spirit of transparency, and because of the importance of this issue to our democratic discourse, I strongly request that the FCC put out any specific changes they intend to vote on in a new notice proposal rule making so that the American people have the opportunity to review them.
The current hearings are an important examination of the issues related to the hypothetical loosening of the media ownership rules. But any specific changes should receive public review and comment. I commend the FCC for holding this discussion and soliciting opinions and analysis from all sectors of our community.
Again, I appreciate your coming to Chicago for this important hearing. I look forward to working with you and the communities represented here today to make sure that our media rules work for everyone and respect and promote the nation’s diversity, and the people, and our views. Thank you. Senator Barack Obama.
CHAIRMAN MARTIN: Thank you, Mr. Bennett. We also have Illinois State Representative Connie Howard to make a few opening remarks.
REPRESENTATIVE HOWARD: Gentlepersons, thank you for inviting me to speak during this discussion about media ownership rules and the modern media landscape.
AS a member of the I l l i n o i s House of Representatives, closing the digital divide has been one of my passions for years. The lack of diversity in media ownership since the adoption of the 1996 Telecommunications Act is also an area of major concern.
It is my understanding that one company can own up to eight radio stations in one market, and an unlimited number nationally. Deregulation has led to the eradication of media diversity and local integrity to the extent that 10 major companies now control
nearly 90 percent of the media content in the United States. This shift has been aided and abetted by government policies that explicitly reward industry giants at the expense of the public interest. While the media moguls claim they want a free market place, and deregulation, it seems that the last thing they really want is genuine market competition.” (End of quote.)
Again, we cannot say with any precision how, when and where this process will begin. I do believe that we can reasonably expect something to start happening in this area. The outcome will be a sharp curtailment on the freedom of speech that now prevails in the country. Rush Limbaugh et. al. may not be shut up and shut down, but listener access to their conversation may indeed be much more difficult to obtain.
Stay alert and continue to educate yourself. Perhaps the old slogan that “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom” has never been more vital than it is today.