Patterico's Pontifications

8/18/2003

THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE IS UNFAIR:

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:20 am

THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE IS UNFAIR: The other day the Washington Post had this story about how broadcasters will likely shy away from showing Arnold Schwarzenegger movies during the election, because doing so “would allow rival candidates to demand equal time.”

The story provides a precedent: “In 1972, NBC aired a Doris Day movie in which comedian Pat Paulsen appeared for 30 seconds. Because Paulsen had launched a satiric presidential campaign, he was ruled a legitimate candidate. Two Republican candidates requested and got 30 seconds in the same time slot as a result.”

My question is this: how can this be considered equal time for Paulsen? And how is an Arnold movie equal time for Arnold?

For simplicity’s sake, let’s take a hypothetical scenario where we’re dealing with a Republican primary between Arnold and Tom McClintock (my current favorite candidate), rather than an election with 135 people. Now let’s say I, a McClintock supporter, own a broadcast station. Are you telling me that I can run an Arnold movie every night, and let McClintock “demand” a free two-hour commerical to “respond,” and be in compliance with “equal time” laws?

What this all illustrates is how wise the Reagan Administration was to use deregulation to sweep the “Fairness Doctrine” into the dustbin of history. Federal law had for years required broadcasters to provide equal time for legally qualified candidates. The “Fairness Doctrine” drastically expanded this concept to mandate equal time for discussion of contrasting points of view on issues. Since discussion of issues is much more common than use of a broadcast station by a candidate, broadcasters had to be very careful not to spend too much time discussing one side of a political issue, lest the heavy hand of government come down and tell the broadcasters that they had to provide free time to the other side. (Anyone see a First Amendment problem here?)

The Fairness Doctrine was often called the “Hush Rush” doctrine. This is because, strictly implemented, it would have forced any station choosing to run three hours of the wildly popular Rush Limbaugh show to slit its throat by sacrificing yet another three hours to the ratings wasteland of “liberal talk radio” (e.g. three hours of Al Franken calling Rush “fat”).

“Equal time” is a very questionable concept that, as the Arnold example shows, is subject to abuse and ridiculous interpretation. You can thank Ronald Reagan for the fact that it is limited to equal time for legally qualified political candidates, as opposed to equal time for discussion of issues in general.

But don’t get too complacent. Once the liberals figure out that there is no market for liberal talk radio, watch for them to push the “Fairness Doctrine” again. This is how liberals operate: when they lose in the marketplace of ideas, they respond with laws and lawsuits. And remember: now that Arnold is a political figure, the liberals will argue for two free hours of propaganda every time a TV station shows a “Terminator” movie.

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