House Speaker Nancy Pelosi apparently has decided there won’t be a vote this year to permanently prevent the government from imposing the so-called Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters.
In fact, Pelosi favors reestablishing the doctrine, which would elevate government as the final arbiter of what’s fair in public discourse.
In a nation founded on the principle of freedom from government control, we have strayed far when government presumes to regulate free speech. Pelosi has made it clear she favors such an infringement by once again establishing the misnamed Fairness Doctrine for broadcast media.
The doctrine would require television and radio stations to provide equal time to opposing points of view on controversial issues. It was abolished by President Reagan in 1987 when there were far fewer media outlets. The doctrine was a bad idea then. It’s worse today.
It’s preposterous to claim any point of view needs the government’s help to reach the public in light of the proliferation of new media outlets, hundreds of cable television stations, 14,000 radio stations, an ever-growing number of Web sites, an estimated 10 million blogs and constantly streaming Internet video and audio.
In fact, before it was abolished, the doctrine had the opposite of its intended effect, limiting rather than expanding public discourse, because broadcasters minimized controversial programming out of fear that the government would require they provide “the other” side of the story.
Worse yet, it also made a farce of free speech. Since when are there only two sides? There are as many arguments as there are points of view. What broadcaster feasibly could provide “equal time” on even one topic to Democrats, Republicans, American Independents, Socialists, Libertarians, Greens or any variation of those and myriad other political viewpoints?
Fearful of paying huge fines or even losing their broadcast licenses, it’s no wonder broadcasters watered down content to avoid controversy. We shudder at the effect such a doctrine could have on religious broadcasting. Would Methodists and Muslims and Animists have legitimate claim to rebut a Baptist broadcast on a station owned and operated by Baptists? Do we want the government making that call?
But even if it were workable, it’s utterly Orwellian for the government to impose arbitrary standards on public discourse among private broadcasters.
Clearly, the liberal Pelosi sees an opportunity to suppress popular conservative talk shows that have proliferated and flourished since the doctrine died. Had liberal talk shows multiplied and prospered, we doubt she would be as eager to impose government control.
The Broadcaster Freedom Act would permanently prevent the Fairness Doctrine from being resurrected. Its backers say there are enough votes to pass — if the measure reaches the House floor for a vote. We call on Pelosi to allow the vote, or for the necessary 22 additional representatives to join the 196 who already have signed a petition to circumvent her obstruction and permit the vote. It’s only fair.