Push for a New Fairness Doctrine is a Big Threat to Liberty
Some self-described free speech advocates have an uncanny ability to embrace censorship. One of the more recent examples is the push among some on the left to have Fox News dumped from cable providers, and cast into the outer darkness.
Others on the right are just as determined to punish platforms they dislike – big social media companies, Google, and Amazon, for instance – through a return of the absurdly named Fairness Doctrine. This would be a catastrophe for everyone:
You might be asking yourself, what exactly is the Fairness Doctrine? In 1949 the Federal Communications Commission notified radio station owners that their broadcast licenses were contingent on whether they operated “on a basis of overall fairness,” which meant making their facilities “available for the expression of the contrasting views of all responsible elements in the community on various issues which arise.” If a station were to air a segment about a controversial political issue or current event, it was obligated to represent multiple viewpoints about that topic (though in practice it turned into a blunt both sides-ism). If a station failed to consistently do so, it risked losing its station license at renewal time, which would be the kiss of death.
It didn’t take all that long before the Fairness Doctrine became a partisan weapon:
John F. Kennedy realized that the Fairness Doctrine could be weaponized. Following his narrow election victory in 1960, JFK’s attorney general (and brother) Robert Kennedy commissioned Walter and Victor Reuther, executives in the United Automobile Workers union, to come up with a plan for boosting Kennedy’s re-election hopes. In particular, they were to find a way to silence a group of pesky right-wing radio hosts that had sprung up like weeds on non-network radio over the past few years.
Give government power over speech and it will use it – eventually to further partisan political ends. A new Fairness Doctrine would be a profound threat to liberty. But there is something would-be censors can do to quiet the voices bothering them…
…they should try turning the channel – or turning the TV off entirely – to see just how liberating freedom of choice can be.