Many liberals complain that we need to bring back the “Fairness Doctrine” to prevent Fox News and other right-wing outlets from spouting constant lies.
While the right-wing lie machine is indeed a problem, bringing back the Fairness Doctrine is not only a bad idea, but it wouldn’t solve the problem.
The Fairness Doctrine was established in the late 40s to apply to radio and television, and it required broadcasters to provide equal time to opposing views. It was eliminated during Reagan’s attack on all government regulations.
Doesn’t the doctrine seem to violate the 1st Amendment, by regulating what you can say on your own radio or TV show? Well, yes and no. The Supreme Court held that TV and radio were different than newspapers or magazines (which never had to follow a “Fairness Doctrine”). There were limited frequencies available — only so many TV and radio stations could fit on the same dial in the same area. Therefore, the government needed to regulate those frequencies to prevent overlap and confusion. And if you wanted a license to broadcast, the government could put restrictions on your license: Only so many commercials per hour, no obscenity, public service announcements, and equal time to opposing views.
This never applied to cable, which doesn’t need “frequencies.” There is an infinite amount of cable stations that could exist, so the government cannot regulate it in the same way. The Supreme Court even ruled in one case that it could not be applied to newspapers or magazines since there was not a limited number that could exist, and the same logic applies to cable.
So even if we brought back the Fairness Doctrine, it would not affect Fox News or other cable stations at all.
And why would we want it to? Seriously, do you really want that? Think about it. It would have to apply to everyone. You really want Rachel Maddow to say “And now, for an opposing view of what I just talked about, here’s ten minutes of Rush Limbaugh”? No, that’s not why I watch MSNBC.
The other thing to consider is that even when we had this, it didn’t work very well. Not all views are equal. Yet, in order to meet the requirements of the Doctrine, TV stations had to give time to the most ridiculous things. “And now, to counter our learned doctor who spoke of his wish for everyone to get a vaccination to fight the covid virus, here’s a guy who has a web page claiming this will place microchips in our skin so that Bill Gates can track our moves and better gauge where to send the chemtrails.” TV stations would cave in to ridiculous “equal time” provisions so as not to lose their licenses.
So no, we don’t need the government regulating free speech and violating the 1st Amendment. Whenever you think that way, ask yourself how that can be used against you. Imagine if Trump had been re-elected and was given the right to demand “equal time” and regulate TV stations and cable news that way. You think they’re going to go after Fox, or will they attack all the stations they consider “fake news”?