Why? What is the Fairness Doctrine? It was introduced in 1949 as a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable, and balanced. The FCC eliminated the policy in 1987 and removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register in August 2011.
The fairness doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States. It can also be traced to the floodgates of politically partisan radio programming that rose up in the United States shortly after it’s demise.
The main agenda for the doctrine was to ensure that viewers were exposed to a diversity of viewpoints. Before the advent of cable and satellite broadcasting, many areas of the country had only two or three TV channels and a few radio stations to get their news from, meaning that it was easy for a news director to promulgate a partisan stance without interference. However, by 1987, most of the country had many channels from which to educate themselves, not to mention even greater options once the internet took hold in the following decade.
However, the problem now is that the FCC and Supreme Court did not take into account a very basic human nature. We are creatures of habit. If we lean left, we are less likely to entertain conservative points of view, and vice-versa. Once you have found a station that speaks to your beliefs already (for example, Fox News for republicans and MSNBC for democrats) you are less likely to seek out opposing viewpoints from which to better assist the way you view the world. More choices does not equate to fairness in application, only in theory.
By mandating a balanced presentation of viewpoints and centrist news reporting, the notion of bi-partisanship would be re-introduced on a united front. Our country is severed, and congress is locked in a fiercely partisan standstill that has severely crippled the law-making machine it once was.
There is no overnight answer, there usually isn’t in any case, but by gradually repurposing the way that news and opinion is disseminated, gradually, the finer points of both parties can feasibly be embraced by all Americans, and can loosen up the partisan grip that has ground our unity into fragments. It is up to each of us to make our voices heard. Do not expect journalists or news outlets to help you, by and large the media profits to a much greater extent without the fairness doctrine. Reaching half of the country by pandering to their core beliefs provides you with die-hard viewers and listeners. And while reaching all Americans can theoretically give you a bigger audience, the reality is that watered-down or balanced opinions to not generate fanatics, you end up with lower ratings because your news does not stand out anymore. The Fairness Doctrine must return in some form and must be done against the capitalism-first agenda of the American Media. It’s really up to us, now.
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