The time for a Fairness Doctrine has passed, two Congressional Democrats tell CNS News in an interview today. Senator Ben Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, both from Maryland, appeared skeptical that an initiative to reinstate the old control on political broadcasting could pass, and would be effective in any regard:
The government “has the responsibility” to make sure there are a “variety of opportunities for people to get information,” said Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) when asked about the Fairness Doctrine at the Democratic Senatorial Committee election night party on Tuesday.
Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) were asked if a station like the Washington, D.C.-based WMAL, which has a lineup of conservative hosts, including Chris Plante, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Marc Levin, should be controlled by the government so they offer more balanced content.
“Well first of all, I think that a station should have a balanced approach. I think they are doing their listeners a service when they provide all sides to an issue, but quite frankly, there is more variety today than we’ve had in recent years,” Cardin said. “We have a lot of radio stations that are providing all different types of points of view, and I think there’s a lot of self-selection here. There’s a lot of listeners who are saying, ‘Look, we are going to listen to stations that are balanced,’ so I think the market in some respects is working this out.” …
“I think it’s increasingly difficult because it’s kind of like a balloon. In other words, even if you wanted to go there — and I’m not saying we do — but if you wanted to go there, when you squeeze one end of the balloon, you know, simply the conversation can just go to others,” [Van Hollen] said. “I think even if you wanted to go back to the Fairness Doctrine, technology may have passed it by.”
The Reagan administration ended the Fairness Doctrine twenty-one years ago, leading to a revival of the AM broadcast band, which had begun to die off with the explosion of access to FM and its superior signal quality for stereo music. At that time, the Internet didn’t exist as a commercial entity, and cable television was still primarily a rural phenomenon, although it had already begun gaining ground in suburbs and cities. Most people got information either through newspapers or regulated broadcast stations in television and radio.
Now, as Van Hollen points out, the world has changed. With inexpensive broadband increasingly available to all consumers, information flows in many channels. The Internet does not have federal content regulation or licensing requirements. Except for explicitly illegal content such as child pornography and expressions of violent overthrow of the United States, anyone can express any opinion on the Internet, with only self-imposed limitations. Cable and satellite television now dominate markets, most of which technically avoids FCC licensing regulations as well. Satellite radio has begun to make its own inroads in markets as cable TV did a generation ago.
Only broadcast channels such as terrestrial television and radio fall under the FCC’s aegis now. Imposing greater restrictions would inevitably lead to the demise of broadcasters, especially in the AM band. Without politics, most of these stations would cease to exist, and Van Hollen correctly notes that the content would just move to another medium. The FD would not keep anyone from accessing information that they wanted to get — it would just ensure job losses and irrelevance for AM radio.
It’s interesting to hear this from two Democrats. While they didn’t want to take a firm position against the FD, it seems that a reinstatement is only popular with a subset of Democrats and not with the party as a whole. Common sense about technology appears to be winning over partisan hackery — or at least we hope it does. Make sure to let your representatives in Congress know that Cardin and Van Hollen are right.