Friday, October 15, 2004

What to Watch -- O'Reilly on Fox Red, or Franken on Fox Blue? 

We have long maintained that one of the earliest, most crucial steps on the road to the political hell we currently occupy was the abolition, under Reagan, of the FCC's fairness doctrine. And if it gives us a fighting chance to get the damned thing reinstated, then we say hell, yes, let Sinclair Broadcasting show their Stolen Honor for all the world to see. From Broadcasting & Cable, courtesy of Cursor's Derelection 2004:
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, representatives of Common Cause, the Alliance for Better Campaigns, Media Access Project, Media for Democracy, and the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ said that Sinclair's decision to carry the documentary three weeks before the election on all of its 62 stations represented a political agenda at odds with its responsibilities as licensees to be, well, fair and balanced.

"Acts of extreme bias may violate broadcasters’ statutory public interest obligations, and should be addressed in license renewal hearings at the Federal Communications Commission," said Meredith McGehee, executive director for the Alliance For Better Campaigns.

The groups were not asking for the documentary to be pulled, pointing out that they hadn't seen it and it wasn't the government's place to do so anyway.

But they do want Sinclair to offer a similar amount of time for an opposing view. If Sinclair doesn't offer the time, all 62 of its TV licenses could be challenged, though on what grounds beyond the interpretation of the public interest remains to be seen. Sinclair has offered rebuttal time to candidate John Kerry, but the groups say that is not sufficient to balance the documentary . . . .

The Fairness Doctrine grew out of Section 315 of the Communications Act, which still requires broadcasters who allow one candidate to use their airtime to make time available to opposing candidates (the so-called equal opportunities clause), though they are not required to offer time to either (they are required to sell time to candidates).

The FCC extended those rules into a general doctrine that station had to "Afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance." The Supreme Court upheld the doctrine as constitutional in the 1959 Red Lion decision—invoked by activists Tuesday in arguing for enforced fairness—citing the scarcity of broadcast frequencies as a rationale for what they conceded resulted in a lesser First Amendment for broadcasters.

The 1987 commission, under Chairman Dennis Patrick, scrapped the doctrine in 1987, saying that the scarcity rationale no longer applied and that the doctrine amounted to editorial decisions imposed by "bureaucratic fiat."

The personal attack and editorializing rules, which were opposed by both the National Association of Broadcasters and the Radio-Television News Directors Association, required broadcasters to to provide airtime for respondents to political editorials or personal attacks . . . .

The groups will have at least one advocate on the commission. "The commission has weakened or eliminated virtually all the public interest responsibilities of broadcasters," FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said Wednesday of the the activists' effort. "It's long overdue for the commission to consider reimposing the personal attack and political editorializing rules."
The network news organizations do occasionally come through. If you haven't heard, Nightline sent a full investigative team to Vietnam to establish what we could have told them for free -- that John O'Neill and the Swift Boat Vets are so full of mule shit it's a wonder their eyeballs don't pop out.

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