A governmental restriction on free speech that was known as the “fairness doctrine” could be resurrected under a congressional plan, but a spokesman for the president said he’ll deal with it if it’s needed.
The doctrine, which was eliminated during President Reagan’s tenure in the White House, had required broadcast outlets to carry opposing views if a report or program was perceived as endorsing a political view.
Les Kinsolving, WND’s correspondent at the White House, asked presidential spokesman Tony Snow about it during a press briefing:
“Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Congressman Maurice Hinchy of New York have just introduced companion bills called the ‘Media Ownership Reform Act,’ which are an attempt to revive the ‘fairness’ doctrine’ for TV and radio with no such government control proposed for newspapers, magazines or wire services. My question, does the president believe that we should revive the so-called ‘fairness doctrine” which was repealed during the Reagan administration?”
Sanders is an Independent who aligns with Democrats and Hinchy is a Democrat.
“You know … we’ll take that up if it becomes a real issue,” Snow responded.
Kinsolving then continued: “President Kennedy’s Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Bill Ruder, said, ‘We had a massive strategy to use the ‘fairness doctrine’ to challenge and harass the right-wing broadcasters and hoped the challenge would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue. And my question, do you remember the statement reported by The Washington Times on Sept. 5, 1993.”
“No, Although I do have some memories of the Kennedy administration, that particular utterance does not rise to thought,” Snow said.
“That was from an article headlined, ‘Return of the Fairness Demon,’ and the byline was Tony Snow,” Kinsolving said.
“That’s great,” said Snow.
The “concept” of the fairness doctrine is that since airwaves are a limited public resource, those using them should provide arguments on both sides of issues. However, there is no such proposal for any restrictions on publications, apparently because they don’t use public airwaves.
It was enforced by the Federal Communications Commission until 1987 and it had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court to First Amendment challenges during the 1960s. But it was dropped under President Reagan after a court upheld his administration’s interpretation that Congress never imposed the plan as a “binding” requirement.
Congress then attempted to reinstate it, but it was vetoed by President Reagan as well as President George H.W. Bush.
Broadcasters have considered it an unnecessary and probably unconstitutional limit on their programming. At one point during debate on the issue, The Heritage Foundation assembled a panel of broadcasters to discuss the issue, and their conclusion was that “fair” as defined by Congress and the FCC probably would be anything but.
Free speech would be stopped and the litigation that would result would be a nightmare, they decided.
Snow’s article, “Return of the Fairness Demon,” was published in The Washington Times in September, 1993, and was cited in support of the argument that such a doctrine is impossible to enforce, since “fairness” would mean “that each broadcaster must offer air time to anyone with a controversial view. Since it is impossible for every station to be monitored constantly, FCC regulators would arbitrarily determine what ‘fair access’ is, and who is entitled to it, through selective enforcement.”
The panel noted that both Kennedy and Nixon used the doctrine to restrict political opposition, and one analysis of the Nixon administration noted: “License harassment of stations considered unfriendly to the Administration became a regular item on the agenda at White House policy meetings.”
Ruder also confirmed that the Kennedy administration wanted to utilize the restrictions to limit opposing points of view.
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