The ‘Fairness Doctrine’ Myth: Right Wing Falsely Claims Progressives Want To Resurrect Mandatory Balance

Yesterday, the Center for American Progress and Free Press released a detailed statistical analysis confirming that talk radio is dominated almost exclusively by conservatives. In addition to the analysis, the report offers remedies for correcting this imbalance.

Several right-wing bloggers are now attacking progressives for advocating the reinstitution of the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to devote airtime to important and controversial issues and to provide contrasting views on these issues in some form. Michelle Malkin titled her post on our report “Fairness Doctrine Watch” and Sister Toldjah posted information on how fight back “against this attempted resurrection of the Fairness Doctrine.” Similarly, the National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg wrote:

Does anyone really believe liberals would even entertain this renewed passion for the fairness doctrine if talk radio were overwhelmingly liberal? It just strikes me as so transparently opportunistic and unprincipled. If a conservative were to argue that the state should get involved in making Hollywood, or the biggest newspapers, or the broadcast news networks, or leading museums, publishing houses, or universities less liberal, liberals would justifiably scream bloody murder about censorship and propaganda.

Actually, the report does not argue that the Fairness Doctrine should be resurrected. It specifically states that the Fairness Doctrine likely would not correct the imbalance in talk radio. Additionally, serious concerns are raised by the FCC explicitly reviewing and regulating radio content or speech. From the report:

[T]he Fairness Doctrine was never, by itself, an effective tool to ensure the fair discussion of important issues. The Fairness Doctrine was most effective as part of a regulatory structure that limited license terms to three years, subjected broadcasters to license challenges through comparative hearings, required notice to the local community that licenses were going to expire, and empowered the local community through a process of interviewing a variety of local leaders. Added to this regulatory structure was the cooperation of the broadcast industry through the National Association of Broadcasters Code of Conduct

Simply reinstating the Fairness Doctrine will do little to address the gap between conservative and progressive talk unless the underlying elements of the public trustee doctrine are enforced, in particular, the requirements of local accountability and the reasonable airing of important matters.

The report argues instead that we should address the more significant problem of concentrated ownership and ineffective regulation in order to push the market structure to better meet local needs. As report co-author John Halpin stated, “If we break up concentrated ownership, and encourage greater local accountability over radio licensing, and still end up with lots of conservative talk, then so be it. We don’t think this will happen but at least the playing field would have been made more level.”


The CAP/Free Press report argues for more speech, not less. Conservatives should get their facts straight before blindly attacking others.