In apparent response to GOP leaders of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee who requested in June that Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Julius Genachowski “strike the Fairness Doctrine from the agency's rulebook,” the former corporate media executive has announced exactly that today, striking the rule, and 82 others, from the official FCC rulebook…
The controversial Fairness Doctrine and 82 other rules governing electronic media were deemed obsolete and, therefore, abandoned by the FCC on Monday.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski called the rules “outdated” and said they were being removed to lessen the burdens of regulation on media companies. The decision also includes significant reductions in satellite and broadcasting license fees. The FCC said the moves are part of its focus on eliminating rules that are no longer needed and revising others to reflect changes in technology, “thereby clearing the path for greater competition, investment and job creation.”
Bound to get the most attention though is ditching the Fairness Doctrine, an idea that was meant to force radio broadcasters into offering as much left wing political content as they offer right wing commentary. Although the doctrine has not been enforced since President Ronald Reagan deemed it unnecessary at best and an infringement of free speech at worst, the rule was still technically on the books.
Liberal commentators and even some lawmakers were agitating for its enforcement again, though Genachowski has resisted and on Monday made its demise official policy.
“The elimination of the obsolete Fairness Doctrine regulations will remove an unnecessary distraction,” Genachowski said. “As I have said, striking this from our books ensures there can be no mistake that what has long been a dead letter remains dead. The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago. I am pleased we are removing these and other obsolete rules from our books.”
As noted by Hollywood Reporter, the Fairness Doctrine has largely been a dead letter since Reagan ordered his FCC to stop enforcing it in 1987. Despite how the legend has it —- and as Hollywood Reporter somewhat misleads in its report —- the doctrine did not ensure balance of political views on the publicly-owned airwaves. It did, however, require that media at least offer the opportunity to air opposing views on controversial issues.
Ending enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine, which had served the nation well since the early days of radio in 1949, paved the way for Rush Limbaugh and other hard right commentators to use the public airwaves as little more than a one-sided propaganda tool. The situation was exacerbated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as signed by President Bill Clinton, under the pretense that it would allow for greater competition in the broadcast media market. The act allowed for virtually unrestricted corporate ownership of local radio and television stations and ultimately gave a handful of corporate outlets unfettered control of almost all of the nation's limited broadcast bandwidth.
The result, as Sue Wilson —- a former news producer and director of Broadcast Blues, a documentary about many recent failings of the FCC —- noted at The BRAD BLOG last April, is that Rightwing talk radio now dominates the nation's public airwaves, even dwarfing the reach of Rightwing television cable outlets such as Fox “News”.
Moreover, as Wilson reported here last month, the FCC was found guilty by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals of having inadequately sought public opinion before making a number of key rules changes that would have allowed even more corporate control of our airwaves. The judge in that case ordered the FCC to go back to the drawing back after the same inadequate procedures were found to have been carried out by the FCC under boththe Bush and Obama administrations.
Despite efforts by a very small handful of Congressional Democrats and a few progressives to restore the Fairness Doctrine in some form, most such efforts were largely abandoned after the Rightwing media machine used its dominance of the public airwaves to declare any such efforts as an attempt to silence Republican voices on those same airwaves.
Satisfying the GOP request to kill the Fairness Doctrine once and for all, however, likely presented little conflict for the Obama FCC.
As we reported on January 21st, 2009, on the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated, the new White House website promised on its “Technology” Page to “Encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media…and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation's spectrum.”
That statement seemed hopeful at the time, but Summer of that year, as we reported at Alternet, that paragraph had been quietly excised from the White House website entirely.
The Obama transition's technology team was led by Julius Genachowski, who was easily confirmed as Obama's new FCC chair in March of 2009.
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