July 2, 2007

Fairness in Media

The debate about free speech and fairness in the media is ratcheting up mightily these days as Conservative talk radio is under attack by Liberals (Progressives...seems the new label of choice). The Fairness Doctrine, never a Legislative mandate, was rescinded by the Federal Communications Commission in 1987. This was followed by changes in the media ownership rules and, as some believe, concentration of media outlets in the hands of too few owners.

The debate will continue to rage, sparked most recently by the publication of a report, The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio, by the Center for American Progress, a Liberal group headed by John Podesta, President Clinton's former Chief of Staff. The report argues for equal time by increasing the regulatory hurdles for multiple station ownership.

"There are many potential explanations for why this gap exists. The two most frequently cited reasons are the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and simple consumer demand. As this report will detail, neither of these reasons adequately explains why conservative talk radio dominates the airwaves.

Our conclusion is that the gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system, particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules including the requirement of local participation in management."

Said another way, the report wants increased government regulation to reduce the concentration of station ownership to curb the success of Conservative talk radio. Liberal Congressional leaders, e.g., Senator Feinstein, Sanders, Representative Pelosi and others have begun beating the drum to silence their critics on talk radio. It can't be plainer than that. They want to regulate free speech and have another go-round on the issue because Liberals have failed to compete in talk radio, witness the colossal failure of Air America. Is it the jejune nature of Liberal talk radio that fails to interest people?

I see this attempt as a warm up to the 2008 elections to create an issue for the Liberals to attack the Conservatives, particularly Conservative talk radio. The liberals must believe that the word 'fairness' will attract many in the public to their side of the debate. I think their strategy will ultimately fail because this issue inevitable will wind up in the Supreme Court which has already indicated that free speech, particularly political speech should be allowed. Nevertheless, the Liberals feel they have an issue with some traction and clearly intend to make life difficult for their opponents by putting them on the defensive. They certainly have the attention of Conservatives. Check out this piece.
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