Saturday, June 16, 2007

On Fairness (or lack thereof)

In the Brew City Brawler's recent scuffles with Patrick McIlheran over the Fairness Doctrine, it seems to me that there is a certain lack of understanding on the part of both combatants as to what the doctrine in question would actually entail.

Saith the Brawler:

A radio station can run Rush Limbaugh if it wants. But if it's going to run the rantings of that big, fat idiot, it needs to run countering views.

Confirmeth McIlheran:

Suppose WTMJ runs Charlie Sykes in the mornings, then gives the Brawler all afternoon to rant in reply.

In short--both apparently believe the doctrine would simply require conservative commentators to be balanced by liberal commentators.

Here's the thing, though. The Fairness Doctrine wasn't looking to regulate a balance in political commentary as a whole. It was looking to regulate balance individually, on each specific issue discussed.

In other words, it wouldn't be enough if you gave, say, Al Franken two hours to offset two hours of Rush Limbaugh. You would have to take each and every issue Rush raised, and find someone to offer the opposing view on each and every issue--more than likely several someones, unless you have a duly appointed anti-Rush, who argued the opposing positions simply because it was his or her job (in other words, a lawyer).

It's not a rule friendly to freewheeling, multi-topic talk radio. You, as a broadcaster, would be far better off picking a single issue and then bringing in the opposing viewpoints.

And even then, you're not safe, because the presentation for each issue doesn't just have to be equal--it also has to be fair. Is it a fair presentation if one side did a better job than the other? If one side failed to present the best arguments? If one side presented its arguments in a busier timeslot than the other?

And horror of horrors--what if one side actually won the argument? Would that be fair?

(Keep in mind, too, who's enforcing this--the FCC, whose chair is a presidential appointee. If you think the party in power isn't going to make a difference as to what's considered "fair," I have a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in.)

It's virtually the same situation as the Title IX athletics fiasco. In theory, there were three ways for schools to come into compliance with that law:

  1. Demonstrating continual expansion of athletic opportunities for women.
  2. "Full and effective accomodation" of women's abilities/interests.
  3. Athletic opportunities proportionate to the student body makeup (i.e. a strict quota).
In practice, the first two methods for compliance were so vague as to be virtually unintelligible. Schools trying to follow one of these methods had no way of knowing whether they were doing it right until they were ruled to be in violation.

The only safe way of complying with Title IX was option #3: the quota. And so--because it's far easier economically to eliminate existing men's programs than to add new women's programs--a number of men's sports were decimated.

Likewise with the Fairness Doctrine, and its vague, undefined "fair." When you don't know the rules, the only winning move is not to play--and by and large, that's exactly what broadcasters did, and would do again. Rather than risk being penalized for an unfair presentation of an issue, they would simply seek to avoid presenting the issues altogether.

That may be a win for stances shared by the "unbiased" fraternity of journalists--whose "objective" news broadcasts would once again reign supreme over the airwaves--but it's hardly a win for the public interest.

And after all, as the Brawler rightly noted--the public interest is the bottom line here.



Dad29 said...

If practiced in the way you suggest (simply do nothing with 'opinion' at all,) I suspect that there would be a LOT less radio stations in Milwaukee within 24 months.

And certainly less overall radio employment.

Shack said...

Hey--Rush Limbaugh is sometimes credited with reviving AM radio in this country. Would it really be that big of a surprise if, once he and his like were taken out of the equation, AM radio died again?

Dad29 said...

Not at all. But within minutes, Sirius would be a blazing success.

Nabisco said...

Shack, as you rightly point out, the irony of the so-called Fairness Doctrine is that it accomplishes the exact opposite of what it claims to champion: the diversification of voices on the airwaves. I do some work with the NAB, and as you mention, the original iteration of the Fairness Doctrine saw broadcasters choosing to forgo issue-based content for fear of being found in violation of the "fairness" standards. Such a situation has obvious negative effects on the public interests, but it also negatively effects the broadcasters themselves, as they lose much of their most popular (and hence most profitable) content.

USpace said...

The people advocating this so-called "Fairness Doctrine" are fascist garbage. Kucinich, Boxer and the PIAPS? DhimmicRATS don't surprise me, but Trent Lott? He is a shameful disgrace.

The truth is that the phony and failing so-called liberal and progressive agenda is a sham and more people are waking up to it. The Left has a very weak argument that comes across even worse on the radio, and people just end up changing the channel.

Also, conservative talk on radio and cable always addresses and discusses so-called progressive ideology so they can logically show how inferior and flawed it is.

No one is stopping George Soros from buying up radio stations or from pumping millions into a money-losing Air America and keeping it going forever. But left-wing talk radio has proven to be such a bad business model that apparently even Leftie Moonbat Soros can't stand donating endless drops of his bucket to it.

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
CONTROL the media

socialists as dangerous
should never be exposed
. .