Why ‘fairness’ fails

By EDITORIAL  |  July 25, 2007

This is not a Whitmanesque ode to diversity. But there is also no shortage of debate and no deficit of conflicting opinions in the current media landscape. Cable, satellite, and the Internet have not only spawned it, they guarantee it. And as powerful as talk radio is, radio itself is a much smaller and less significant piece of the media constellation today than it was in 1949.

The fairness doctrine is an old idea for a time now past. And despite the good intentions that prompted it, it was never a very good idea, anyway. It is best left dead and buried.

Congress should more fruitfully spend its time coming to grips with the massive concentration of communication power in an ever-shrinking bucket. Private companies pay a pittance to use public airwaves. What price are they really worth? The president and Congress are unwilling to dissolve or downsize media giants; perhaps they will be willing to require a better price for the airwaves if coupled with creative requirements for community broadcasting.

The public has benefited from communication revolution in a broad way. But monopoly ownership has lead to a one-size-fits-all conception of broadcasting that ill serves the grassroots. It’s time to think about broadcast audiences as communities to be served, not audiences to be exploited. That — not the fairness doctrine — is the real issue.

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