With Democrats coming back into power, we're being treated to the reintroduction of certain issues, like "sensible gun control laws," that people haven't considered (i.e. they haven't cared about) for years. One of those ideas is the return of the Fairness Doctrine.
For those of you with a life, the Fairness Doctrine requires broadcast media to give equal time to controversial subjects. The FCC decided in 1949 that those who used the public airwaves had an obligation to give all sides of an issue a fair shake in the marketplace of ideas because they were afraid that some broadcasters would monopolize the airwaves with just one viewpoint. In 1987, Congress passed a bill that would have made it law, but President Reagan vetoed it. Now, with Democrats controlling one house of Congress outright, just as they did after Bill Clinton was elected, they're bringing back the Fairness Doctrine.
On the surface, it doesn't seem like that bad an idea to give all viewpoints of a controversial issue. An informed electorate is essential to our republic. (Now, if only more people actually would take the time to be informed...) However, I don't think that's the main reason why Democrats push the Fairness Doctrine so hard when they have a little bit of political leverage.
The rise of conservative talk radio began around the time of Clinton's first term as President, and one of the most effective critics of the Clinton Administration and Democrats in general was Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh has spawned other conservative and near-conservative talk radio hosts, most who are highly critical of the Democrats. Under a revitalized Fairness Doctrine, the stations that carry their shows would be required to run radio shows that would counter what the conservative talk radio shows say.
The problem is liberal talk radio thusfar hasn't found a strong enough calling to be a balancing force. Air America has proven to be somewhat of a failure that has been leaking money and losing talent. Sure, you can find local folks to fill in some of the gaps, but on a national level, the call for liberal talk radio isn't that great. What that does is force radio stations to take on shows that may not bring in the revenue of a Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Glenn Beck and may not get the listenership of those shows, thus defeating the purpose of the Fairness Doctrine and costing radio stations money in the process. Unless Democrats want to force people to listen to Al Franken, it won't work. Then again, such legislation would raise Air America's listenership significantly...
But let's not forget there is another form of broadcast media, television. So far, Democrats haven't explained what the Fairness Doctrine would do to the big three networks. Cable TV is exempt from the terms of the FCC for now, but don't be surprised if something doesn't come down the pike bringing them under the FCC if the Democrats are successful in bringing back the Fairness Doctrine. Anyway, broadcast TV is subject to the FCC, but no one's explaining how they would be impacted. Surely they wouldn't be exempt from it, so they would have to play by the rules the Democrats want to strengthen.
As much as I would love to see someone be like a Dan Ackroyd character to Katie Couric's Jane Curtain, ala 70s era SNL "Weekend Update", it wouldn't necessarilly make things fair due to time constraints. To give equal time to the war in Iraq or any social issue in the news would take up time in a 20+ minute newscast, with commercials taking up the remainder of the time. And considering the networks are concerned about ratings, that would limit the number of subjects being covered, thus defeating the purpose of the Fairness Doctrine again.
There is a fundamental question being ignored in the discussion of the Fairness Doctrine: is it even necessary anymore? These days, people have multiple sources for information, and talk radio and TV news are only a fraction of the sources. Most people today go to the Internet for their news, and it's a lot faster than waiting for the next talk radio or TV news shows to update us on the day's events. Plus, we can tailor our news to our tastes using the Internet, something the networks can't do yet and probably never will. When we can cater to our wants and the network media can't duplicate it, that renders the Fairness Doctrine null and void because we can find our own balance, whether it comes from DailyKos or from Free Republic. Forcing broadcast media sources to give all sides of an issue when most people don't use the broadcast media by and large is an exercise in futility.
So, why do Democrats want to strengthen the Fairness Doctrine? The only thing I can think of is politics because it doesn't appear they give a damn about really helping people be informed about controversial subjects.