In 1949, the Federal Communications Commission created the “Fairness Doctrine,” which mandated that federally-licensed radio and television stations “provide a reasonable opportunity for the presentation of contrasting viewpoints” on “vitally important controversial issues.” Rather than be deluged with demands for air time by aggrieved listeners, the broadcasters generally opted not to cover controversial issues, thereby leaving the public less informed.
In 1987, President Reagan’s FCC jettisoned the Fairness Doctrine, and conservative talk radio grew like topsy, unencumbered by the logistical nightmare of determining what is “controversial” and what is “fair.” Rush Limbaugh’s meteoric, syndicated rise is directly attributable to this repeal, as radio stations were freed to air what listeners wanted to hear without airing what few wanted to hear. If you think that’s unfair, check out how Air America is doing.
Limbaugh even today correctly says, “Don’t me ask for equal time; I am equal time. I am the rebuttal to the liberal, mainstream, drive-by media.”
With the Democrats now set to control the Presidency and both houses of Congress, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid say they want to bring back the Fairness Doctrine to stifle conservative talk radio’s criticism of the Democrats.
Barack Obama, however, in June 2008, , stated that he opposes bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, through his Press Secretary Michael Ortiz: “He considers this debate to be a distraction from the conversation we should be having about opening up the airwaves and modern communications to as many diverse viewpoints as possible.” [emphasis added]
Obama knows that exhuming the Fairness Doctrine would be a frontal assault upon the First Amendment that would evoke a Boston Tea Party-like response from listeners of Limbaugh, Hannity, Ingraham, Beck, and other conservative talk hosts who would be dropped rapidly from many if not all stations. Glenn Beck has warned that if the Fairness Doctrine comes back, he’ll be off the air.
Obama is way smarter than that. What he has in mind is an indirect and far more means to accomplish the demise of conservative talk -- America’s last town hall. The analogy is to the proverbial frog in the pot of water. Put him into boiling water, and out he’ll hop. Instant Boston Tea Party. Here, then, is the Obama plan to slow cook the First Amendment:
Charles Benton is Chairman of the Benton Foundation, with offices in Obama’s Chicago as well as in Obama’s Washington. Benton proclaims at his Foundation’s web site, “[O]ur number one national communications policy priority must be the eradication of racial and gender discrimination in media and telecommunications. Our shared goal: seeing the day when all Americans possess the tools to compete in commerce, to contribute to and enjoy the fruits of democracy, to receive unbiased and uncensored news and information, to create our culture. “ [emphasis added]
The Federal Communications Commission has a vague rule called “localism,” which requires stations to serve the interests of their local communities in order to hold onto their broadcast licenses. Obama, who gets to replace FCC Chairman Kevin Martin right away, needs only three votes from the five-member FCC to define localism his way.
Jim Boulet, Jr., the head of English First in Washington, D.C., one of whose projects is www.keeprushontheair.com, has been studying and warning for months about the morphing of FCC localism. Boulet notes to Human Events the following:
• On September 20, 2007, Obama submitted a pro-localism written statement to an FCC hearing at the Chicago headquarters of Rev. Jess Jackson Sr.’s Operation Push. One month later, an insistent Obama sent a public letter to Chairman Martin stating, “The Commission has failed to further the goals of diversity in the media and promote localism.”
• The head of Obama’s transition team is John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress. In 2007, the Center issued a report, The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio, which concluded there were too many conservatives on the radio because of “the absence of localism in American radio markets” and urged the FCC to “[e]nsure greater local accountability over radio licensing.
• Podesta’s choice as head of the FCC transition team is Henry Rivera, a Director and General Counsel of the above-noted Benton Foundation and chairman of the Minority Media Telecommunications Council, which has stated: “Broadcasters must reach beyond the business sector and look for leaders [think community organizers] in the civic, religious, and non-profit sectors that regularly serve the needs of the community, particularly the needs of minority groups that are typically poorly served by the broadcasting industry as a whole.”
• Bowing to this pressure even while Bush is still President, the FCC proposed on January 24, 2008, the creation of permanent station advisory boards comprised of local officials and other community leaders, to periodically advise them of local needs and issues to ensure content diversity on the air.
• Any station that fails to placate these “local community leaders” would then be subject to license revocation by the FCC with an accelerated license review every two years as opposed to the current eight years. This would allow each station license in America to be attacked twice during just one Obama term.
Question: What organization first used “localism” at the FCC in this fashion? Answer: The United Church of Christ, Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s highly-politicized denomination. UCC has an entity called the Office of Communication, Inc., which successfully took a broadcast license away from a Southern station it felt was not covering the civil rights movement fairly. This is just one reason John McCain should have realized Rev. Wright was fair game in the campaign.
This, then, is the historical template that Obama, Podesta, and their FCC maven Rivera intend to use to do something about the curse of conservative talk radio in America: Redefine FCC “localism” to give community activists the right to demand more local, liberal content. If station ownership does not comply, then licenses will be revoked and given to minority owners.
One of the more clever aspects of this “localism” plan is that, should a station lose its license to a liberal owner whose content will reflect his/her views, then there will be no Fairness Doctrine around to require equal time from aggrieved conservative listeners.
Christian radio stations will be saddled with local Muslim “advisory boards” demanding equal time and getting it. The Brave New World awaits.
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I'm working a booth at the Utah Chocolate Show this weekend, so no blogs this weekend. See you on Monday!