Scott Tibbs

Why are we still arguing about the Fairness Doctrine?

By Scott Tibbs, February 4, 2020

The radical Left has never gotten over the rise and popularity of Rush Limbaugh, and they want to use the federal government to deny consumer choice. We see this again with a column in the Washington Post The problem is they are fighting a 25 year old battle, and their old solutions cannot apply to the modern era of news and information distribution.

The legal theory behind the so-called "fairness doctrine" that the government owns the airwaves. I television and radio are going to use the "public airwaves" then the state has an interest in ensuring that this would not be "abused" to provide a one-sided viewpoint. But that is simply not how most people get their news these days. Most people get their news from the Internet, and there are a wide variety of sources that represent anything from a balanced perspective to ideologically driven opinion journalism from either the Right or Left. Others get their news from cable TV. Neither cable nor the Internet uses the "public airwaves" at all.

So how exactly does Martin O'Malley propose implementing the "fairness doctrine" on this new reality? Simple: He can't. The legal theory that propped up government regulation of the content of speech (which was always on shaky constitutional grounds, "public airwaves" or not) cannot be used the way that O'Malley wants. If any serious effort were to be made to re-implement the "fairness doctrine" it would be defeated in the courts. But the fact that such a scheme is illegal is no obstacle to radical opponents of free speech, who are determined that the federal government control what you are allowed to listen to, watch, and read.

Bringing this issue up again has demonstrated a worrisome totalitarian mentality. If Democrats want to show their commitment to free speech, the 2020 Democratic Party platform should explicitly reject the "fairness doctrine" and the eventual Democratic nominee should say he is opposed to the federal government regulating the content of political speech.

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