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Fairness Doctrine: Definition, Pros & Cons

Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

The Fairness Doctrine is a policy that was implemented by the Federal Communications Commission to ensure balanced coverage of opposing issues. This lesson examines the pros and cons of the Fairness Doctrine.

System of Ideological Control

''The United States is unusual among the industrial democracies in the rigidity of the system of ideological control - 'indoctrination', we might say - exercised through the mass media.'' - Noam Chomsky

''All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.'' - William Bernbach

These two quotes illustrate the power of mass media as exercised by those who use it to promote their agendas through broadcasting. This power can be used in a constructive, informative way, or it can be used to spread paranoia and fear. It can be used to support one political candidate, or to tear down another. Should it be regulated by the government, or just left to itself? We'll take a look at this issue in this lesson about the Fairness Doctrine.

Is this responsible broadcasting?
media distortion of reality

What Is the Fairness Doctrine?

The Fairness Doctrine is a law that evolved from the Radio Act passed by Congress in 1927. During that time, radio broadcasting was much more primitive than it is now, and access to radio frequencies was an issue for broadcasters. As part of the Radio Act, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was created. The FRC regulated access to broadcasting on the available radio bands, and it also developed the idea that such broadcasting was to be something that actually served the public interest. This idea was central to the evolution of the Fairness Doctrine law.

In 1934, the FRC became the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Then, in 1949, the FCC came up with its first real definition of the Fairness Doctrine in its Report on Editorializing, where it stated that ''the public interest requires ample play for the free and fair competition of opposing views, and the commission believes that the principle applies...to all discussion of issues of importance to the public.'' The Doctrine required that important public issues be fully covered by broadcasters, and that there also would be ample air time for opposing views on any pertinent issue.

The Fairness Doctrine was the law of the land until 1987, when the doctrine was inactivated by the FCC.

The Pros of the Fairness Doctrine

Today, with the division that has occurred among various news channels such as Fox News, CNN, and the rest, there has been talk of re-enacting the Fairness Doctrine to bring some order to the reigning chaos. Let's go over some of the possible advantages of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine.

More Objective News Reporting

Wouldn't it be nice if you could turn on the news, and actually hear the news instead of a slanted version of it that is coming from a huge media outlet with an obvious agenda? Well, sorry, folks...it just doesn't happen much these days. But if the Fairness Doctrine were in play, it might, because for every interpretation of a news event that is presented, there would have to be another, balanced interpretation of the event from the party with the opposing agenda, and that would have to come from the same source. For example, suppose you wake up one morning and hear of another mass shooting at a local church. The first thing you may want to know is how many were killed and whether the event is over, or still in progress. You haven't even had your coffee yet, so you may not be ready for the accusations to be slung at either ISIS or a white supremacist group. With the Fairness Doctrine in place, you would be more likely to hear the facts first, with the arguments for the guilt of ISIS or white supremacists both being presented later, with equal weight, as well.

Citizens Feel Like They're Really Part of a Community

When you listen to the news, do you ever feel like a helpless cog in some huge piece of political machinery? When a news channel makes reality seem like a theory, it's hard to feel like you're a participant in any sort of real world. How often does your local news channel actually give you real information about your local community, without political bias and without trying to make anyone in particular look either good or bad? If the evening news told you that, last night, there were two hundred homeless people sleeping under the bridge by the river, would you be more likely to go and pass out blankets than if it told you that the tough-on-crime mayor who was just elected plans to arrest all vagrants and put them in the nearest jail?

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