Archive for the ‘fairness doctrine’ Tag

Tyranny By Another Other Name   Leave a comment

I like free speech and I like privacy. In fact, I think free speech depends on privacy.

 

Too bad the US government absolutely sucks at protecting our privacy.  Glenn Greenwald’s new book No Place To Hide reveals that the U.S. government tampers with Internet routers during the manufacturing process to aid its spying programs.

 

Do you really trust the government with control over the Internet? We know from the Fairness Doctrine that the government didn’t trust the media outlets to police themselves, so we can be sure that the government will need to technically verify whether the telecoms are treating data as they should, which will mean installing its own hardware and software at critical points to monitor Internet traffic.

 

We already know that , once installed, our government (and any other government able to hack in) will not use this access for benign purposes. They didn’t in the past. Why would they change their behavior now?

 

Oh, but you like Barack Obama and the current Chair of the FCC and you’re not worried that they will invade YOUR privacy or infringe upon YOUR freedom of speech. What happens if Jeb Bush is elected to the White House? What if Republicans remain in control of the House and Senate? That changes the dynamic a bit, doesn’t it?

 

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. – James Madison, The Federalist No. 51

 

I used to believe the US government was a benevolent and wise parent looking out for the best interests of society. When Jimmy Carter violated Alaska’s Statehood Compact and the provisions of ANILCA, I got real-world woke up. I see the US government as a dangerous tyrant, influenced by large corporations, seeking to control everyone and everything.

 

At the crux of the debate between proponents and opponents of Net Neutrality are that some of us have become aware that Skynet exists and others of you still want to live in dreamland.You want to believe that the US government is all-knowing with good intentions that will never change without your permission and all will be well. I don’t believe that because I look to history and see Woodrow Wilson outlawing political dissent and FDR locking up US citizens of Japanese ancestry. The US government topples elected democracies, fights unjust wars and interferes in world affairs. It executes American citizens in violation of 5th Amendment rights.

 

I don’t trust the government. It doesn’t matter which party is “in” at the moment because I’m convinced they’re two sides of the same coin called tyranny.

 

Regulations can start out with the best of intentions, but when enough red tape accumulates, we drown in it regardless. That leads to less freedom for us individually and for society as a whole.

Remembering the Fairness Doctrine   3 comments

This can be considered an installment of my media influence series. It isn’t over. I just got busy and distracted.

 

The American people just seem unable to learn the folly of allowing the administrative state to control anything in our lives.

 

When I was in college (early 1980s) there was a fierce debate underway about the unfairness of the Fairness Doctrine.

 

For those who are unfamiliar with the Fairness Doctrine, it was based on a 1949 Federal Communications Commission regulaion that requried broadcasters to “afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of pulbic importantce.” It was overturned by the FCC in 1987 because, contrary to its purpose, it failed to encourage discussion of more controversial issues. It also violated the First Amendment, but who cares about that old piece of paper anyway, right?

 

The Fairness Doctrine was predicated on the idea that the airwaves were scarce and to assure that broadcasters did not stomp on one another’s signal, the government had to regulate access. From that came the idea that it could also regulate content. The FCC claimed that the only way to assure fair and balanced news and opinion was to mandate it.

 

In practice, controversial speech was silenced as the threat of random investigations and warnings discouraged broadcasters from airing what FCC bureaucrats might refer to as “unbalanced views.” Rather than encouraging debate, it stifled it. But it also skewed the news.

 

Those of us old enough to remember the late-1960s remember the “Silent Majority” – a vast number of ordinary Americans who never seemed to make waves. While protests swept college campuses and sucked up all the media attention, they were largely silent. But were they, really? We now know that as the media focused glowing attention on the affects of progressivism in the America a large groundswell of conservatives were forming that would eventually bring Ronald Reagan to the presidency, followed a few years later by the Contract with America. If you go back and look at broadcasts from that era, you don’t see any evidence of that groundswell. You have to go to print media to find it. There were a handful of local radio stations that allowed citizens to call in and espress opinions, but if the discussion skewed too far to the conservative end of the wading pool, the radio station management was likely to receive a call from the FCC telling them to balance their content.

 

I’m not saying there was a vast progressive conspiracy to keep conservative ideology off the airwaves. I’m saying that government is more likely to be staffed by progressives. It makes sense. If you feel that government should be small and limited, you’re less likely to seek employment with government. If you are a progressive, you are more likely to view progressive ideas as being more truthful and valid than conservative ideas. You are also going to get into a lather when the local radio station allows “unbalanced” views and you can do something about it. So the FCC became a watchdog and bulwark against conservative ideology creeping onto the airwaves.

 

In 1984, the Supreme Court concluded that the scarcity rationale underlying the doctrine was flawed and that the doctrine “inescapably dampens the vigor and limits the variety of public debate”. When the Fairness Doctrine was set aside in 1986, conservative talk radio exploded onto the scene. It didn’t need to build an audience because that previously Silenced Majority were thrilled to finally hear their own beliefs in public.

 

Of course, progressives don’t like that and there have been occasional attempts to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, especially to enshrine it in Congression law. Reagan vetoed one attempt in 1987 and later attempts have failed to pass Congress. As an independent regulatory agency (which ought to scare the hell out of all intelligent Americans), the FCC has the power to reimpose the doctrine without Congressional or Executive action.

 

Supporters of reviving the un-Fairness Doctrine base their argument on the same three faulty premises that the FCC used originally.

 

Scarcity

The broadcast spectrum is limited, supporters say, so they should be policed by federal bureaucrats to ensure that all viewpoints are heard. And yet there are thousands of radio and television stations nationwide as well as cable and satellite channgels and the Internet (more on that in a later post). There is little prospect for a information monopoly simply because of the incredible diversity of media.

 

Fairness

Federal policing is needed to guarantee fair access to the airwaves for a diversity of viewpoints. This is assuming that FCC bureaucrats have the ability to discern what is “fair”. The way the Fairness Doctrine was administered, each broadcaster had to offer air time to anyone with a controversial viewpoint. FCC regulators would arbitrarily determine what “fair access” was and who was entitled to it through selective enforcement. PBS in Fairbanks Alaska was a progressive wonderland with no FCC warnings in its jacket. KFAR in the same market would receive regular FCC warnings for listerners calling in and expressing their personal opinion. Gotta balance that! Both the Kennedy and Nixon administrations used the Fairness Doctrine to keep unfavorable reporting off the airs. What is “fair”? It all depends on your viewpoint, I guess.

 

Guaranteed Vigorous Debate

Supporters of the Fairness Doctrine then and now will assert that requiring broadcasters, under threat of arbitrary legal penalty, to “fairly” represent both sides of a given issue will result in more views being aired and will not affect the editorial content of a station. The reality was quite different. Under the Fairnmess Doctrine, with the threat of potential FCC retaliation for perceived lack of compliance, most broadcasters were reluctant to air their own opinions because it required them to also air alternative perpectives thatt their audiences did not want to hear. Free (regulated) speech became less free. It did not result in easier access to conversial views, but instead led to self-censorship. With the wide diversity of views available today, people seeking alternative viewpoints can simply change the channel or click on a different link.

 

Ah, but can they?

 

I see Net Neutrality as this era’s version of the Fairness Doctrine and I predict it will result in the exact same problems and with far more dire consequences.

Who Controls the Media?   Leave a comment

The owner of a medium company shapes the values, beliefs and decisions of his/her customers.

Many media are owned by conglomerates, mega-corporations that control vast swaths of mass media.

According to a recent Fortune 500 list, the top media companies by revenue are:

  • Walt Disney Company
  • News Corporation
  • Time Warner
  • CBS Corporation
  • Viacom
  • NBC Universal
  • Sony Corporation of America

Together, these giants control 95% of all the traditional media we receive every day. By traditional media, I mean television and radio broadcast stations, networks and programming, video news, sports entertainment, entertainment theme parks (yes, that’s a medium), movie studies, integrated telecommunications, wireless mobile entertainment and information distribution systems, video games software, electronic and print “news” media”, the music industry, … and a whole lot more.

When I was in college, there were only three broadcast major networks, but companies were not allowed to own many stations in one geographic area, so there was some diversification. The hope of deregulation of the broadcast industry in the 1980s was that it would generate competition in the broad media field. It worked for a while, resulting in the rise of talk radio, but then the larger media corporations gradually began to buy out the smaller companies. Diversity was subsumed by merger until today’s handful of huge companies have the power to shape our opinions and beliefs and influence our decisions in a way only dreamed of by NBC, CBS, and ABC in the the 1970s.

“They” say “knowledge is power” and the knowledge that only a handful of huge corporations control almost all the media in America culture gives us the power to seek different perspectives and be wary of trusting any one medium for all of our news, entertainment and opinion.

But first, let’s look at that influence to determine if it is necessarily a bad thing.

Jacquie Biggar-USA Today Best-selling author

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