Monday, May 01, 2006

The Fairness Doctrine and WGCB

I got some terse feedback from "Frank" on Part 5 of my Networks series last week. He doesn't like the fairness doctrine. To be honest, neither do I. But it's not a topic I've covered in any detail before so let's go there. It came from radioland and is fair game. I hope he responds in greater detail.
Frank Charges that the Dems manipulated the Fairness Doctrine to limit the flow of politically conservative views in the media. He is absolutely correct, they did. For example: In 1964 a a Red Lion radio station, 1440 WGCB-AM was challenged in a Fairness Doctrine complaint. It is said that the suit was secretly financed by the DNC. That part is iffy. But it was an absolutely pivotal ruling in future applications of the doctrine.
In a nutshell what happened was that on November 27, 1964, WGCB-AM carried a 15-minute broadcast by the Rev. Billy James Hargis (below) as part of the very conservative "Christian Crusade" series. A book titled "Goldwater-Extremist on the Right" was discussed. Hargis, said some harsh things about the author Mr. Cook, even going as far as to accuse him of being a communist. When Cook heard of the broadcast he concluded that he had been personally attacked and demanded free reply time, which the station refused. The FCC took issue with that. The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution permitted the FCC to order Red Lion to give free air time to liberals who disagreed with its conservative broadcast content. The Court ruled, in other words, that the federal government could dictate the content of a station’s broadcasting. But had the whole suit been about Cook or defamation of character, Cook could have just sued, and probably would have won. Finer details here,

In all fairness to the Dems, WGCB is at the absolute right-most extreme of the politically motivated christian movement. WGCB-TV airs some "out-there" stuff and gets some real heat from the Anti-defamation Committee for their programming. Some of what they called "free-speech" then would be "hate-speech" now. Things like Holocaust denial, antisemitism, sexism and racism just don't fly in America anymore.

Frank is also correct that the Dems have recently attempted to reintroduce this law. It's now called "H.R. 3302, the Media Ownership Reform Act of 2005" It was introduced by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY). Source here. But it's not just Dems who have an interest in this law!
The Fairness doctrine was introduced in 1949 and it's stated purpose was two-fold:
1. It affirmatively requires that each broadcast licensee carry some coverage of controversial issues of public importance. This ensures that every broadcaster meets its duty to inform the electorate on public issues.
2. It requires reasonable balance in the coverage of these issues in a station's overall programming.
So why would this favor the Democrats? Only because they had a liberal Supreme court at the time. By the late 1980s When the gavel had swung the other way a new bill to place the Fairness Doctrine back into federal law passed the House by 3 to 1, and the Senate by nearly 2 to 1, but it was vetoed by President Ronald Reagan. Among those voting for the bill were Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). REPUBLICANS! Today with a divided, but right-leaning Supreme Court you see yet a new approach to the media control.

The Bush white house was caught bribing/paying radio hosts and newspaper columnists to promote their policies. Then we found out about Jeff Gannon, the Whitehouse press plant. @ years ago Bush signed an executive order to keep the political writing of authors from "hostile nations" out of our bookstores. Foreign authors now need to pass through an approval process at the Federal Office of Foreign Assets Control. Yeah, seriously. The efforts of both parties to control and limit the flow of information to the public are unconscionable. If I wrote Part 5 in 1996 instead of 2006 it would be just as apt. This is not a simple battle over bad legislation, these are all attempts by political groups to control what information you ingest in an effort to control what you think.