Re: Imus and the Fairness Doctrine

The connection between the fall of Don Imus and the restoration of the fairness doctrine hits the mainstream media today, courtesy of the San Jose Mercury News. Remember, the following excerpt is from a news story, not an op-ed…

Radio has gone unbridled since the relaxing of the fairness doctrine in 1987, which required stations to present fair and balanced political viewpoints.
Since then, [Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology at Manhattan’s Columbia University] said, radio networks have been governed by “the capacity to collect eardrums without any regard for veracity let alone civility.”
Translation: The government should limit the expression of certain viewpoints, in order to promote civility.
Some points to ponder…
  1. What would Brad Kava, the reporter who wrote the excerpt at the top, think of a news story that stated — as an unchallenged fact — that American newspapers have become increasingly “unbridled” over the course of their history because the government has not required them to print fair and balanced viewpoints?
  2. How exactly is the connection between regulating broadcast content and promoting civility supposed to work? For example, more Al Franken on the radio might help meet restored fairness doctrine requirements, but it wouldn’t promote civility, because a) Franken is not a bastion of civil conversation and b) no one would be listening anyway. So where’s the connection?
  3. What would be the reaction if George W. Bush or Dick Cheney argued that the content of electronic media had to be more strongly government regulated in order to promote “civility”? Should the reaction be any less when other public figures call for increased content regulation of the media?
Here’s a possible local variation on the plans of fairness doctrine advocates and their allies…
  • Step 1: Restore the fairness doctrine.
  • Step 2: Tell a station like WPRO that it can no longer run 13 hours of John DePetro, Rush Limbaugh, Dan Yorke, and Michael Savage (no offense intended to Jerry Doyle, but I don’t listen his show enough to comment on his content) as its weekday lineup, because there aren’t enough hours in the day left to provide the legally mandated balance…
  • Step 3: …but also tell WPRO that it can help satisfy its fairness doctrine requirements by dropping one of its existing programs and broadcasting Al Sharpton’s show instead!

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17 years ago

I think you may be reading more into that statement than the reporter intended. The use of the word “unbridled” is not necessarily a value judgment, but instead is a pretty accurate descriptor – since the elimination of the “fairness doctrine,” there has been an explosion of talk radio, etc., that has been largely unregulated.
Secondly, I also see Gitlin’s statement as more descriptive than anything else.
I think it is legitimate to discuss whether or not the elimination of the fairness doctrine is a good or bad thing, but I am hard pressed to see where you are drawing the conclusions that the reporter is calling for “The government [to] limit the expression of certain viewpoints, in order to promote civility.” That seems unnecessary fearmongering, Andrew.

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