My partner Ed Atsinger and I founded Salem Communications Corp., which owns and operates commercial radio stations in virtually all the major markets in this country. We are in this business primarily because we have a point of view. Our editorials emphasize limited government, free enterprise, a strong national defense, and traditional moral values. These principles are also, in general, the views of our talk-show hosts.
Not only are we conservative in our politics, but we also operate within the Judeo-Christian moral framework as did our founding fathers. Given that background, you might be tempted to think that we favor legislation now pending in Congress to regulate content of over-the-air radio and television stations. Not on your life!
Today, we enjoy almost unprecedented freedom in religious broadcasting and public-policy discussions that the First Amendment was designed to promote, largely because of one historic act in 1987: The FCC repealed the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which had imposed government control of content.
Now conservative Christians and other conservatives, too, are being sucked into applauding measures that would have government again controlling content and shutting down stations that violate standards, just as many well-meaning conservatives supported the Fairness Doctrine. It's important to remember that, in spite of the overwhelming liberal bias of the large media, only one broadcaster ever lost a license because of the Fairness Doctrine: a small Christian radio station in Media, Pa.
We may all cheer the demise of Howard Stern, who has lost many of his major markets because of impending government action. I wouldn't listen to his programs if he were the last broadcaster on the face of the earth. I'd rather be without radio, and that is a drastic statement since radio is my business.
Mark my words, however. If impending government action can cause Howard Stern to be taken off the air, imagine a bill that would give the FCC power to so regulate content that, after three fines for violating standards set by fiat, a station could lose its license. Sure, right now, an FCC dominated by reasonable people wouldn't do anything drastic. But let us suppose that, with this bill on the books, the nation has elected Hillary Rodham Clinton president.
Let us also suppose—and it is no stretch of the imagination to believe this—that
President Hillary Clinton appoints radical liberals to the FCC. With the precedent established that the FCC can revoke licenses over content, these commissioners determine that conservative views constitute hate speech. For example, we are strongly supporting a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union only between one man and one woman. Let us suppose that these commissioners declare that such a position is against national policy and constitutes discrimination.
There are a number of simple solutions to getting rid of the garbage on the air. The FCC should use the authority it already has. Listeners should stop listening. Without ratings, there are no sponsors; without sponsors, there will be no programs. Express your deep displeasure to sponsors, radio-station owners, and the public. Although that may be harder to accomplish than just enacting a law, in the long
run, it will avoid the unintended consequences of eroding our precious freedom.