I can’t imagine it actually coming to pass, but rumblings about reviving the inappropriately named “Fairness Doctrine” have sprung up around Capitol Hill. The Fairness Doctrine would be an FCC regulation that would force radio stations to balance their programming – so that station that plays Rush Limbaugh for three hours would have to balance it out with… um… well, whoever it is that liberals and Democrats listen to.
The impetus for the rule change is clear. Senator Debbie Stabenow claims that talk radio “overwhelms people’s opinions – and, unfortunately, incorrectly.” In other words, she’s worried about opinions she disagrees with being more persuasive. It’s completely antithetical to everything our country is founded on, but quelling dissent makes sense.
Beyond principle, though, the problems are in the details. For instance, who determines what “balance” entails? If Sean Hannity is in favor of invading Iran, is he effectively balanced by someone who is against invading Iran because they would rather invade North Korea? And how does a fairness doctrine account for “do-it-yourself” media?
The great thing about free speech is, if you disagree with what someone else is saying, you have every right to answer them and attempt to make a compelling case. Sometimes the other side has the advantage of experience and establishment – just ask any conservative reading the New York Times or watching CNN. (And incidentally – if the fairness doctrine is passed, it opens a can of worms for mainstream media.)
More avenues exist now than ever before to get a message out – which makes the fairness obsolete as well as being, well, unfair.