Peter DeFazio on the Fairness Doctrine

A few days ago I wrote this letter to Peter Defazio about the Fairness Doctrine. I was happy to get a real response from him. I thought that you all might find this interesting as it illuminates a clear difference in understanding when it comes to government power (his response is below, followed by my closing comments):

Representative Peter DeFazio,

 

Dear Sir,

I would consider myself philosophically conservative on most issues, so I know that we probably disagree on many things. However, I respect you greatly as a fellow American, and I enjoy hearing your opinion, however different from my own it may be. 

With that in mind, I am certain that you and I would agree about the importance for our government to secure liberty and protect an individual’s basic right to free speech. (see footnote 1)

For instance, it would be detrimental to individual liberty for the government to force individuals, groups, or companies to present certain viewpoints or ideas (whether Left leaning, or Right) to the public. In other words – it is a similar violation of liberty to have government forcing radio stations to promote certain ideas, as it is having the government force an environmental group to present certain viewpoints on a college campus. 

Thus, I am confused as to why you would support legislation such as the Fairness Doctrine – which essentially amounts to the government forcing radio stations to carry certain aspects of content. 

Who decides what’s fair? As a consumer of radio, I don’t need the government to decide what sort of speech I should be hearing. Similarly, I wouldn’t want the government telling colleges what their professors should be teaching.

The best thing about America, is that individuals have the liberty to support or not support stations, organizations, and institutions that carry viewpoints they like or dislike. For instance, I enjoy the freedom to discourage local radio stations from carrying jerks like Michael Savage, in favor of talkers with more class. I don’t need the government to step in and balance things out. I would be just as opposed to the government forcing Air America to carry conservative viewpoints as I would of the government forcing you to provide an opposing opinion when you give a speech.  

Essentially, the issue here is personal Liberty. Our basic freedom to disagree, and yet discuss our differing viewpoints is what makes America so great. This is what freedom of speech (see footnote 1) is all about. In this case, I think we should let the people individually decide what they wish to listen to or not. The more personal choice individuals have, the freer we all are as a people.

Imagine you had your own radio show where you talked about your viewpoint on policies and government. Does it make sense for the government to require the stations carrying your show to have to provide opposing viewpoints? No. If people want to listen to your show they will – if they don’t, they’ll switch stations. 

Even worse, how do you determine an ‘opposing viewpoint’? There are millions of different viewpoints (Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, Universalist, Constitutional…just to get started) out there – it would be an impossible task for government to regulate. If government required this, most radio stations would probably just can everything. Then people wouldn’t hear any viewpoint. The bottom line is that this judgement is best left to each individual person. 

Anyway, that’s my opinion on the matter. Like I said, I know we disagree on a lot – but I would encourage you to please consider my argument and perhaps reconsider your stance on things like the Fairness Doctrine. Likewise, I would also be interested in your point view on this topic.

Thanks so much for your time!

Respectfully yours,

========= Here is his response (I highlighted a couple things to discuss at the end):

Dear Mr._______:

Thank you for your recent message on the Fairness Doctrine. I appreciate hearing from you.

The Fairness in Broadcasting act, which is better known as the Fairness Doctrine, was repealed in 1987.  It provides that when broadcast stations discuss issues of public importance, they give reasonable time to opposing views. It in no way infringes on anyone’s First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court agreed in its ruling in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC.

But more importantly, it is important to note that the Fairness Doctrine does not in any way restrict people from expressing their views on the public airwaves. Talk radio hosts would be free to continuing doing the same shows they do today.  The doctrine merely requires license holders to allow for opposing points of view to be heard.  Hearing a fair and balanced debate is critical to helping Americans fully understand the issues our country faces.

The bottom line is that the airwaves over which over-the-air television and radio broadcast are distributed are owned by the American public, not the corporations that are granted a temporary license to carry programming on a given station.  Therefore, it is entirely reasonable to require the license holder to act in the public interest by ensuring an opportunity for conflicting views to be heard on pressing issues of national importance.  But, again, that doesn’t mean that each viewpoint would have to be offered equal time or that a talk radio host would be restricted in what issues he or she could discuss or what guests they could have on.    

Again, thanks for contacting me on this matter. Please keep in touch.

Sincerely,

Rep. Peter DeFazio
Fourth District, OREGON

===================

I think that is an interesting response and I am very happy that Rep. DeFazio (or his staffers…) took the time to reply. Clearly, you can see that he believes that the government should require radio stations to allow for opposing viewpoints because it is in the public good

Here lies a crucial departure in our understandings when it comes to governmental power. It seems clear that it is Rep. DeFazio’s view that the government decides what is in the best interest of the public. In this case, that means requiring a radio station to provide “conflicting views. (see footnote 2)

This is a monumental moment of clarity!

I believe in the opposite. I think that the power lies in the publics’ free choice (that’s you!) to decide what they view to be good for themselves.

One quick possible objection before I expand on that idea:

It is logical to argue that the government is “the people”. After all, we elect them right? I mean, the fine folks of District 4 in Oregon chose to elect Rep. DeFazio, correct?

Of course this is true.

However, what people may not realize is that the public also elected to make certain radio shows (with certain viewpoints) successful over the airwaves in a much more direct and democratic way: With their own choice to listen! 

Radio is successful only when it can generate revenue from advertising. Advertiser’s only sponsor shows that have good listener ratings. Therefore, the public (again…that’s you) have chosen to listen to whatever they/you want, in their/your own interest.

This is the very crux of personal Liberty in a free market system. You get to choose what is in your own best interest. Not The State! (You cannot get a more fundamentally core conservative principal than this.) Furthermore, did District 4 elect Rep. DeFazio so that he could decide what is in our best interest? I highly doubt it. 

This is what Liberty and America in general, is all about: No matter who is elected into government, whether Republican or Democrat, what gives them the right to choose for you what is in your best interest.  

This is fundamentally why I am now a conservative. I believe that the greatness of America lies in the fact that the power of our government is directly in the hands of it’s people. You and I are far better judges of what is in our own best interest than The State. And like I said in my letter, I have the freedom to turn off the radio when I feel that a certain viewpoint is not in my best interest, and so should you.

What do you think?

-Footnotes:

  1. Scrap the free speech stuff. I was mistaken to include that. As Rep. DeFazio (or his staffers…) rightly pointed out, this has little to do with First Amendment rights.  Rather, it has more to do with peoples choice over what is in the public interest and who decides that. I regret bringing the First Amendment into the discussion.
  2. I thought that comment was interesting because anyone who has listened to radio for more than a few seconds would realize that there are all kind of conflicting views. In fact, I prefer shows where the host intentionally and only takes callers with opposing views, because it’s great radio!!! I would assume that either Rep. DeFazio doesn’t spend a great deal of time listening to radio shows, or perhaps only listens to one rather boring show where everyone agrees…


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6 Responses to “Peter DeFazio on the Fairness Doctrine”

  1. Andrew Slominski Says:

    This is the stuff tyranny is made of. If they bring this back we’re all done for as Americans. Just wait until they apply this to the internet, then freedom of speech will really be dead.

  2. Ed Says:

    You are confused and making an apples and oranges debate. This isn’t a free speech issue at all. Unlike cable television or satellite radio or the internet, over the air radio and TV stations are using radio spectrum. This radio spectrum is owned by the people. Unlike companies like Verizon who lease out spectrum for billions in order to have the right to do whatever they want with it, radio and TV stations are given this valuable, and limited, spectrum for FREE. Therefore they simply cannot, by law, do whatever they want with it.

    As a condition for getting free access to this scarce public resource, they agree that they are to act as a trustee of the public they serve and must meet certain obligations. If they do not meet those obligations, they lose their license. That is how it is to this day. Any radio or TV station you listen to over the air must meet these public service obligations as a requirement of their license. For instance, section 303a of the telecommunications act says all TV station must meet the “educational and informational needs of children”
    http://www.dinf.ne.jp/doc/english/Us_Eu/ada_e/telcom_act/47/303b.htm

    And that’s just one requirement. There are many others. Fairness doctrine was one of these. It simply said, as part of your license to use our spectrum, you agree that you have to talk about controversial issues of public concern and you must present it in a fair manner. The FCC actually gave stations a lot of leeway in deciding what that meant. That is not too much to ask.

  3. Dempsey Says:

    First of all, DeFazio didn’t answer you personally; one of his staff responded.

    The Fairness Doctrine is nothing more than fascist democrats controlling choice in our lives. Here is what will happen if this vile piece of legislation passes: Radio stations will be required to air a rebuttal to everything talk show personalities say. If Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity etc., get three hours each to broadcast their views (paid for by sponsors), then “progressives” will be required to have the same amount of time to expel their socialistic propaganda. Who is going to pay for this? Since this is mandated by congress, the social/fascists will not have to pay a dime to spread their filth. In all fairness, this means we would have to hear libertarian, protestant, catholic, taoist, deist, buddhist, communist, communitarian, and anarchist points of view as well. With all of these ways of looking at life, who is going to pay for air time? Answer: NOBODY! With no revenue generated from the private sector, radio stations will be forced out of business , by canceling contracts with companies who represent various talk show hosts. Law suits will ensue and of course the “cure” will be for the government to come in and “settle” the disputes.

    Now one may think, if conservative/libertarian talk shows have to have another point of view aired, so will air-america. This is not the point! The point is to destroy talk radio so private individuals or companies who have invested time and money to keep these shows running, will lose their shirts. And we will no longer be able to hear OUR point of view.

    This folks, is democrats long history of “fairness” at work. The bread and butter of liberals is to be “fair” and have everything look good initially on the outside. Every damn thing they touch follows this same pattern. Make it look good to the common man AKA current crop of “victims, and make hard, creative working individuals pay for their Stalinist/Lenin/Hitler like plans to destroy western civilization.

  4. C.S. Lewis on -soft- Tyranny « What The Crap? - whatthecrap.us Says:

    […] This is essentially why I am against increasing the power to the State. A lot of things come packaged nicely (welfare, healthcare, environmentalism, etc) and they end up being communicated as moral imperatives. There is a very real danger when governments believe that they decide what’s in the best interest of their citizens, as opposed to the people themselves. (Peter DeFazio talked about this very thing in his reply to my letter about the Fairness Doctrine). […]

  5. Katy Says:

    Actually, there are now a fair few number of documented events where journalists, talk show hosts, etc believe they were either fired, lost wages, or were otherwise threatened for inviting an opposing opinion to speak on why we shouldn’t invade Iraq. And without hearing these opposing opinions, its hard for the public to know what those views are and make their own decisions.

    Honestly, if we had an educated and active public, I don’t think any of this would be needed, but we don’t. We have a public who sits on their asses and listens to whatever crap corporations decide to call news and believe that’s the whole story. We could use a few representives standing up for our right to know the truth, but then if you want to leave the world to a highly manipulated “free market” you’ll get exactly what you deserve. Large conglomerate corporations that don’t give a **** about you or your needs, and have little moral issues shutting you up any way they can.

  6. Dave Says:

    “Large conglomerate corporations that don’t give a **** about you or your needs”

    Only that you have a job so you can eat and enjoy a roof over your head.

    Of course, I’d prefer a “large conglomerate” that is subject to free-market enforcing laws than one that breaks the law while sanctioned and regulated by the government (like Freddy and Fanny are, just before they helped wreck our economy). Lets not forget the Clinton-era Democrat enacted Free Housing Act that crashed many of our banks and (heavily government regulated) auto-industry, cost us millions upon millions of jobs, and poured fuel on the flames of deficit spending. But damn the founding fathers and the GOP for their crazy free-market theories that have made America’s “poor” (minority) some of the wealthiest people on the planet, and made America the first nation in thousands of years of history to have a larger middle class than lower class.


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