Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fairness Or Pornography

Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-NY) has come come out strongly in favor of The Fairness Doctrine.“I think we should all be fair and balanced, don’t you?” he said during an election day interview on Fox News. Encouraging the FCC to move forward with enforcement (which may be a bit premature since the FCC has no legal mandate to do so), he compared insuring such fairness to regulating pornography on the airwaves, and called any other plan "inconsistent".

 Now I'm not the experienced politician that Mr. Schumer is, but I can't help but find his argument less than persuasive. In fact, one could make the argument that by Sen. Schumer's rules, the pornography that he brings to the table for comparison should have an equal place on the airwaves, something that I think that he and few others would concede. But such comparisons do little to advance the discussion on the Fairness Doctrine, and Sen. Schumer's argument is therefore nothing more than distracting. In fact, this argument is less about what goes out over the airwaves and more about who decides what goes out. 

Current law says that the Federal government owns the airwaves and grants licenses to companies to use portions of them. As part of that licensing the FCC created the Fairness Doctrine in 1949, a policy designed to insure that media outlets, which it considered public trustees, provided fair and balanced coverage to the most important issues of the day. 

The Fairness Doctrine was thrown out by the Supreme Court in 1987 however, mostly because it was not properly mandated by Congress. Congress hastened to correct that fact, but their efforts were vetoed by then President Reagan. It lately seems to be getting a lot of traction with Congress though, as the political left feels that talk radio is unbalanced in favor of the political right (while ignoring that the exact opposite appears to be the case on television). With a Democratically controlled House, Senate, and Executive branch apparently coming in 2009, it appears likely that some form of such regulation is likely to see the light of day soon. 

As for me, I would like to see as little government interference with what goes out over the airwaves as possible. With all of the choices in programming that are out there today, I have to think that there are more than enough alternatives available and that we the listening public have more than enough intelligence to choose which of them we will listen to. If you don't like what someone is saying, change the channel. If you think that it is wrong or objectionable, call the station and complain. If that doesn't work, call the advertisers. 

What you don't do is force a government to mandate its version of pornography, morality, or fairness on everyone as an alternative. For by such standards, one might equally argue that Christian radio stations be balanced by the opinions of those of the Jewish or Muslim faiths, or even that of the atheist; and be forced to broadcast them as a consequence (as someone, somewhere probably is).

Isn't the act of choosing in this case, more comparable to the right to assemble peaceably, something that is guaranteed to us in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution? Isn't listening to those we agree with, whether on a street corner, in a town hall, or on the radio very much in keeping with the precepts which the Founding Fathers laid out for us? Such freedom should not be taken lightly, nor subjected to the monitoring of a government agency. Before we go down that long, dark road, let me remind everyone of a couple of surprisingly intelligent things that some equally intelligent people have said over the years:  

"I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it."
- Voltaire  

"The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously." - Hubert Humphrey  

And one of my favorites, a great little line from a movie about the personal crisis and triumph of a liberal chief executive called "The American President",

"You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours."
- President Andrew Shepherd (as played by Michael Douglas)  

... that sounds fair to me.



mw (DWSUWF) said...

Agreed. The absurdity of imposing "fairness" in a world of unlimited information choice never seems to get through to likes of Senator Schumer. You might enjoy my take on this: "Fixing Fairness - A modest technology solution".

Ben said...

I am not sure if the Dems are dumb enough to push for this. Maybe they are though.