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The Fairness Doctrine - An Antiquated Regulation or Worth a Second Look?


For about 26 years between 1949 until 1985, Radio adhered to a government policy called The Fairness Doctrine. After it was eliminated, conservative talk radio made a stunning rise in popularity, led by Rush Limbaugh. Now, some critics are calling for The Fairness Doctrine to be brought back.

Lately, because of the dominant conservative tone of talk radio, there have been calls for a return to something referred to as The Fairness Doctrine.

This is a political issue.

Many Democrats are in favor of the government, through the F.C.C., insisting that AM, FM, and TV operators all provide alternate viewpoints to programming aired. In many cases, this would translate into a liberal point-of-view against the already heavily-infiltrated conservative point-of-view on Talk Radio.

Republicans, as you can imagine, are against any return of The Fairness Doctrine because they feel it is an attack on free speech.

Latest Developments

Because of recent events there's been a lot of talk about the "Fairness Doctrine" which was abolished by the F.C.C. over 20 years ago. Relaxing the rules led to much of today's talk radio which is now dominated by conservative programming. This doesn't sit very well with some liberal lawmakers.

According to 9news.com: "Some Democrats in Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have expressed support of the Fairness Doctrine. However, no legislation has made its way to the floor of either house in this session of Congress or the last."

Still, it is being hotly debated on and off radio.

Gil Spencer from delcotimes.com writes: "...one thing is clear, the less government has to do with determining the content on any radio - show liberal, conservative or Martian - the better."

Yet, Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, said on The Bill Press Show: "I think it's absolutely time to pass a standard. Now, whether it's called the Fairness Standard, whether it's called something else - I absolutely think it's time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves."


"The Fairness Doctrine" was a regulatory policy instituted by the Federal Communications Commission in 1949 - a policy adopted during the Democratic administration of President Harry S. Truman.

As Val E. Limburg points out at museum.tv, "The fairness doctrine ran parallel to Section 315 of the Communications Act of 1937 [sic] which required stations to offer 'equal opportunity' to all legally qualified political candidates for any office if they had allowed any person running in that office to use the station. The fairness doctrine was simply FCC policy."

The Fairness Doctrine was given some credibility in a 1969 Supreme Court ruling called Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. FCC.

But, during the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan in 1985 according to Limburg, "...the FCC issued its Fairness Report, asserting that the doctrine was no longer having its intended effect, might actually have a 'chilling effect' and might be in violation of the First Amendment."

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