Should a 1940s-to-1980s rule mandating more balanced media be reinstituted?
Beginning in the earliest years of television, from 1949 to 1987, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required American television and radio broadcasters to present both sides — or all sides — of any political or social issue. It came to be nicknamed the Fairness Doctrine.
The Reagan-era FCC eliminated this rule, which was never reinstituted in subsequent decades under either party. Supporters of the rule’s elimination argued it helped the First Amendment and free speech, by eliminating forced speech or advocacy towards all sides — including sides a station’s ownership or management may have disagreed with.
On top of this, a subsequent Trump-era 2017 FCC decision loosened ownership restrictions on stations. In combination, these two decisions not only allowed given stations to present only one view, but for many stations nationwide — now more easily owned by the same conglomerate, such as the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group — to present the same view.
Opponents say that the Fairness Doctrine resulted in more balanced and impartial media outlets, and that eliminating it led to the rise of polarized media outlets which now have license to only broadcast one side if they choose — which in turn has led to a far more polarized country and electorate.
Indeed, the most prominent conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh debuted his national radio show a year later in 1988, while the most prominent conservative television network Fox News began less than a decade later in 1996.
What the bill does
The Restore the Fairness Doctrine Act would once again mandate television and radio broadcasters present both sides when discussing political or social issues, reinstituting the rule in place from 1949 to 1987.
It was introduced in the House on September 19 as bill number H.R. 4401, by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI2), who’s also a Democratic presidential candidate.