You Are the Arbiter of What Is Fair Print
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Wednesday, 03 September 2008 02:25

This is the 700th issue of the River Cities' Reader. Thank you, readers and advertisers, for your support of the independent and free press these past 15 years. Without you this milestone could not have been achieved. And without the dedication and diligence of our outstanding staff, you would not have access to the weekly coverage of local issues and events in an intelligent, balanced manner that is the exception rather than the norm in today's media.

The Reader celebrates its 15th anniversary next month and everyone is invited to take part in a full day of programming and entertainment on October 23, so mark your calendar. The celebration is shaping up in the spirit of our "Business, Politics, Arts, and Culture" content, and promises to engage audiences, provoke thought and dialogue, inform, and entertain. Stay tuned for a full schedule soon.

In this issue, Jeff Ignatius expertly tackles the dubious "Fairness Doctrine," also known as the "thing that would not die," regardless of the amount of media saturation and choices modern technology provides. The doctrine seeks to ensure that opposing viewpoints receive an equal voice on the public airwaves. Jeff writes: "Broadcasting is a privilege rather than a right, and the government has traditionally required broadcasters to operate in the public interest as a condition of holding a license."

So what happens when a third, fourth, or fifth viewpoint emerges (as opposed to the two traditional political-party viewpoints)? Will the Fairness Doctrine ensure that these alternative viewpoints are also provided exposure on the public airwaves? Shouldn't broadcasters already be doing this as part of their privilege to broadcast? Does the government overseeing this public trust not already have a tool to ensure compliance with the original privilege granted to broadcasters - the revocation of a broadcast license?

Let's apply the premise of the Fairness Doctrine to a real-world example. In Minneapolis last week, in preparation for the Republican National Convention, police raided the homes of dozens of citizens who were known protesters against the war in Iraq. The daily paper in Minneapolis reported it, but with no mention of whether there were warrants and for what probable cause. Apparently the authorities were looking for explosive devices, but only came away with computers and books. More than a hundred people were detained and a handful arrested - before the convention even started - a preemptive strike because they were on a "list."

How many of you even heard about this outrageous violation of our civil liberties? Do you think, with the Fairness Doctrine in place, you would get on the air with an opposing viewpoint objecting or even questioning this travesty? Of course not: The talking heads are too busy tracking the weather. Essentially when our federal legislators, whose viewpoints are either Democrat or Republican, agree on an issue, a third viewpoint - that of the citizenry - need not be heard.

T. Boone Pickens recently learned just how much of a privilege access to the public airwaves really is. Pickens, a self-made billionaire in his 80s, has been running television ads nationwide over the past few weeks about his vision for a self-sustaining energy policy, emphasizing no more dependence on foreign oil. Last week he sent an e-mail stating, "NBC is refusing to run one of our strongest ads, and I need your help in showing NBC they can't control what we can or cannot say. The 15-second ad talks about how the government of Iran is making a major effort to use natural gas in their vehicles so they can free up $120 barrels of oil to sell to us because America is doing virtually nothing to counteract its own consumption, hence dependence." (See

Keep in mind that T. Boone is not asking for free airtime to espouse his views. He is asking for the privilege of spending his hard-earned money to share his viewpoint.

One has to wonder, with or without the Fairness Doctrine, and given that one of the nation's wealthiest men cannot even buy the airtime: How much of a chance do you think you have of getting your local broadcasters to cover this subject matter and report this information? What do you think: Would it be "fair" to share this information with the public, or not?

It should not be up to the government to be the arbiter of what is "fair." It is up to you and your neighbors. Unless we communicate our dissatisfaction directly to the broadcasters in our community, letting them know where they are failing and simply refusing to watch/listen to unfair broadcasters, we are part of the problem, not the solution.

Depending on the government to set things right is a folly for which this country has too long been misguided. The Fairness Doctrine is yet another layer of government overreach that will only make things worse, further insulating the broadcast industry from viewpoints that the two controlling parties would rather not have you hear or see.


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