Created in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine was a policy that was set forth by the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] of the United States. It is currently inactive today, but when enforced, required broadcasters to provide equal time to differing opinions so viewers could make their own choices regarding the issues of the day.
With the polarization of Fox News, MSNBC, and other news outlets, the idea of bringing the Fairness Doctrine back is growing in popularity. Here are the pros and cons of what a revival of this policy would bring.
The Pros of the Fairness Doctrine
1. People could actually get two sides of any issue.
Fair and balanced reporting just doesn’t happen these days. Everyone media outlet, whether print, TV, or online has their own agenda they are following. This requires readers and viewers to access multiple resources to get both sides of an issue. The Fairness Doctrine would make it possible to get both sides of an issue from just one resource.
2. It allows people to feel like they’ve bought into their government.
People tend to be more active on a local community level when they are fully informed of both sides of an issue. It’s easy to ignore homelessness, for example, if you never see it on your daily commute. If you know that 1,000 people go to a specific shelter every night for a meal because of balanced reporting, you can make a better choice as to how to address the issue.
3. It creates a environment that encourages cooperation.
Polarization within politics is greater now than it has been for nearly two centuries. The two sides of an issue will never agree with each other, but they may just find a way to compromise with one another since they both receive equal air time. In doing so, more can actually be accomplished on a long-term basis because people are working together instead of working apart.
4. It would increase advertiser funding.
Since both sides of an issue would need to be presented, it would change funding revenues for media providers. If a liberal political ad ran, then a conservative ad would need to run as well. If conservative views are being discussed on a current events issue, then there must be a liberal view present as well. The end result is a bigger network of vendors that are willing to spend more to make sure their views are well represented.
The Cons of the Fairness Doctrine
1. It could be seen as a violation of free speech.
Any broadcaster or media outlet would be required to provide equally balanced coverage on issues. That could even be potentially applied to the bloggersphere. If individual bloggers are forced to share opinions not their own on a blog they own privately, that could be seen as a 1st Amendment violation.
2. The government could control what is released to the general public.
If the government deemed that a broadcaster’s coverage was not equally balanced as required, there is the possibility that a broadcaster could have their license revoked, their blog suspended, or face other fines and penalties. People and businesses would be forced to view their information as a commodity instead of something that could be shared.
3. The Fairness Doctrine still really provides a one-sided view of things.
To fulfill their obligations, many broadcasters would find the most inept, unqualified experts to present to the public so that an opposing view could be represented. This would actually do more harm than our current system does because it would lend instant credibility to the broadcaster’s viewpoint. There would need to be quality controls in place to prevent this from happening, which would further enhance the potential free speech violations.
4. It would limit resources.
Imagine a world where everything is fair and balanced. Imagine Muslims being forced to worship every other week in Christian churches. How about everyone working 3 weeks out of the year so that those who are unemployment get a chance to earn a paycheck as well? Ultimately the Fairness Doctrine would limit available resources because forced compliance would happen otherwise.
The pros and cons of the Fairness Doctrine show us that being fair and being balanced are two different issues. Sometimes the best way to represent all of the facts is to just be a niche expert in one area. If someone wants a different opinion, then there are enough places in media today where it can be found.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.