Comments on Eric Zorn's blog about the Fairness Doctrine

Posted by Mitchell - July 10, 2007 (entry 555)

Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger Eric Zorn commented on his blog about the Fairness Doctrine. CMA organizer Mitchell Szczepanczyk posted a comment on the blog which is reposted below.

My thanks to Eric Zorn for making this a topic on this blog. I have some points I'd like to mention.

Point one: The Fairness Doctrine didn't mandate “equal time to opposing political views”. It basically refers to a legal requirement breaking up the tedium of the content over broadcast content every so often. That's a vague definition, I know, but at least one that allowed for a good faith effort for broadcasters to say they were serving the public interest. When the FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine in 1985, and the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision two years later, that helped pave the way for the flood of one-sided (usually right-wing) political talk shows.

Point two: The study Eric mentions was written by not one but two groups – Free Press, and the Center for American Progress. In that study, Chicago was one of the cities examined for radio content, and of the eight stations examined only two stations, WCPT (Chicago's main Air America affiliate) and WVON (a black-operated radio station) had any progressive content as found by the study. Oddly enough, that was enough to make Chicago tied with New York for the most balanced city of the ten cities examined – Chicago was tied with New York with “only” 53% conservative content.

Point three: One explanation that hasn't been suggested is that of the increase of concentrated media ownership – where government regulations allow fewer and fewer companies to own more and more media outlets. These changes provoke a serious financial incentive to produce content once and redistribute it widely among broadcast affiliates. And once one-sided political talk shows gained some measure of popularity and profitability, more and more stations started getting into the act to the point where now we have a widespread imbalance of content.

Even with a restoration of the Fairness Doctrine, I fear that it may not be much help, mainly because media ownership in the United States has become so concentrated. As bad as it is, in 2003 it nearly became far worse. The FCC four years ago tried to repeal the remaining media ownership rules, and failed when grassroots public pressure across the political spectrum fueled Congress and emergency court actions to reverse the FCC action in its entirety. The courts ordered the FCC to revisit the matter of media ownership, and the FCC has promised to reopen the docket and hold at least six public hearings across America on the topic and on related issues. The fifth of those FCC hearings was in Portland, Maine, just last week. Keep your eyes open, Chicago. The FCC could be coming to a town near you soon. :-)

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