Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) always has positioned himself as the people's politician, and that's how he'll sell himself for 2008 as he embarks on his second bid to win the Democratic nomination for president.
Luckily for him, though not for defenders of the First Amendment, Kucinich, as the new head of the House Domestic Policy Subcommittee in the Democratic Congress, has vowed to hold hearings to revive the fairness doctrine. He says that pulling the plug on the old rule in 1987 allowed merely large media companies to become colossal ones. (Big media controls everything we see, hear and read, but if you don't believe us, there are at least 1,000 Websites that can give you details.)
On the surface, the fairness doctrine sounds, well, fair. While it existed, broadcasters were required to air multiple viewpoints on controversial subjects.
That doesn't sound so alarming, but making it a government regulation inhibited discussion of public affairs. Broadcasters had to represent every point of view or risk sanctions. As a result, station editorials opposed kicking kittens and minced no words urging the city to fix those potholes. Indeed, managers were so careful to be non-controversial that, when it came to real issues, they opted to be—fairly— boring.
It's tricky for us to oppose a rule with such a self-righteous title as the fairness doctrine. But it was a stricture that the printed press has never had to live by. Indeed, it's not a rule an American person has to live by. In our personal lives, we're under no obligation to consider all sides and discuss them with our families or to read even a few pages of books we don't want to read. We can think—and say and write and read—whatever we please.
Yes, broadcasters use public spectrum, but government content control is not a fair price to pay for the privilege. Nor is inhibiting free speech.
Media reformers should know better than to pine for the return of this antique rule, especially at a time when a rather average cable package picks up 100 channels, and the Internet offers tens of thousands of other places to get information.
Everyone who loathes the bile that oozes from some talk hosts is convinced that reviving the fairness doctrine would stem that flow. Rush Limbaugh calls the fairness doctrine "the Hush Rush Law."
But softening TV and radio is not a good thing, no matter how much you disagree with the politics or collective sense of decency of some notorious ranters.
We would prefer the people take the responsibility to reward the voices they find enlightening and turn back the ones they find repugnant. Big media is only as big as the public's taste lets it be.