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house Bill H.R. 4401

Should Broadcasters be Required to Offer Equal Airtime to Opposing Views on Issues of Public Importance?

Argument in favor

The Fairness Doctrine was an important rule that ensured broadcasters offered equal coverage to both sides of issues. In its absence, radio and television coverage of important issues has become skewed, hurting political discourse and civility. Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine could help better inform the public on all sides of important issues.

burrkitty's Opinion
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10/04/2019
I’ve been saying this for a LONG time! The Fairness Doctrine made the media tell the TRUTH. It also didn’t allow the slanderous hyper partisan personal attacks. It was a huge mistake to abandon it!
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Kelley's Opinion
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10/04/2019
The Fairness Doctrine was eliminated under Reagan and crazy conspiracy crap started - such as Breitbart and Fox Entertainment. Their totally lack of accuracy should be litigated.
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Joanne 's Opinion
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10/04/2019
Wasn't that a requirement at onetime? Seems like Reagan got rid of that. Paved the way for Faux News among others.
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Argument opposed

The Fairness Doctrine is easily abused for political ends, difficult for the FCC to administer in a reasonable manner, and no longer necessary in light of the numerous broadcasters in today’s media landscape. Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine would have a chilling effect on free speech, in addition to being administratively challenging to implement.

Cheryl 's Opinion
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10/04/2019
There are so many ways this can be abused. Fox just gives Trump glowing reviews no matter what he does, so why should other news sources be required to let Trump lie on their news shows also. Republicans and Trump are out of control and asking for communist help for Trump for political purposes is dangerous and ridiculous. What is wrong with these Republicans that they are so hell bent on getting this President re-elected they are asking foreign governments for help whether there is proof or not. Trump is bad for Republican politicians and for the party. This is a republic and we should elect our president and other government politicians WITHOUT anyone interfering. And that includes our own sitt President, who thinks he can do anything he wants and get away with it.
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Paul's Opinion
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10/04/2019
I had to think about this a few times. I don’t feel that the media content is obligated to anybody. If a news outlets becomes discredited, we must decide whether to continue to support them. For them to offer opposing views only help them; but to make them put anything on is government control.
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Carmine's Opinion
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10/04/2019
Stop trying to put a gag in conservative mouths!! Stop trying to take away conservatives little air time that they get!!! Protect the first amendment!!!!!
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What is House Bill H.R. 4401?

This bill — the Restore the Fairness Doctrine Act of 2019 — would reinstate broadcast licensees’ obligation to offer reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance. From 1949 to 1987, broadcasters were required to devote equal airtime to opposing viewpoints under what was known as the “Fairness Doctrine.”

Impact

Broadcasters; radio; television; television news; radio news; television talk shows; radio talk shows; and the FCC.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 4401

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthRep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced this bill to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Writing in Washington Monthly in 2017, journalist D.R. Tucker argued that the Fairness Doctrine’s repeal hurt the U.S. and the Democratic Party:

“[The Fairness Doctrine’s repeal is one of] the most destructive decisions in the modern American media history, a shamefully successful effort to divide our public airwaves along partisan lines, a choice that made a few people rich while impoverishing our democracy… The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine hurt this country. That one action gave us three decades of radio programs that recklessly reaffirmed prejudices, smeared Democrats so thoroughly that some parts of this country have now seemingly become off-limits for the party, and set Americans at each other’s throats. Some legacy, eh?”

Historically, Democrats have argued that reinstating the Fairness Doctrine is a matter of providing accountability and balance in media for the American people. During a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in 2018, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) blamed the Fairness Doctrine’s demise for the divisiveness of the current national political discourse, saying, “Up until that time we never had one side or the other side—it was both sides.” Sen. Manchin suggested that Congress, rather than the FCC, should look at ways to revive a Fairness Doctrine-like policy for broadcasters, and observed the need for such a policy: 

“Something has to be done to save our country because right now we’re destroying each other—we’re pushed politically to the brinks of engagement. It worked up until that point of time and it’s gone to heck in a handbasket since.”

In 1993, the Heritage Foundation’s Adam Thierer, then the F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy, argued that the Fairness Doctrine is “anything but fair.” Thierer argued that the continuously increasing number of broadcasters in the U.S. nullified the need for federal regulators to regulate the “scarce” amount of spectrum space, since spectrum space wasn’t actually scarce. He also argued that FCC bureaucrats were ill-equipped to determine what’s “fair,” or to enforce it. Finally, he argued that arbitrary enforcement of the fairness doctrine would diminish vigorous debate.

In 2009, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama in the Wall Street Journal opposing a proposal to revive the Fairness Doctrine. He wrote, “I would encourage you not to allow your office to be misused to advance a political vendetta against certain broadcasters whose opinions are not shared by many in your party.” Further, Limbaugh argued that the Fairness Doctrine and similar rules regarding media content are regulatory weapons that’d amount to the “death knell of talk radio.”

This legislation doesn’t have any cosponsors.


Of NoteThe Fairness Doctrine was a U.S. communications policy that was in effect from 1949 to 1987. It was formulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and required licensed radio and television broadcasters to present fair and balanced coverage of controversial issues of interest to their communities. This included devoting equal airtime to opposing points of view. 

Opponents of the fairness doctrine argued that the equal airtime requirement infringed on First Amendment free speech rights. In 1969, the Fairness Doctrine survived a challenge in the Supreme Court case Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. Federal Communications Commission. In that case, the Court found that the FCC acted within its jurisdiction in ruling that a Pennsylvania radio station had violated the fairness doctrine by denying response time to a writer whom a broadcast had characterized as a communist sympathizer. 

However, in 1985 the FCC decided that the fairness doctrine had a chilling effect upon free speech, making some stations reluctant to discuss controversial issues. Around the same time, cable and satellite television networks challenged the doctrine’s applicability to their industries. Soon thereafter, the FCC formally repealed the fairness doctrine in 1987

When the Reagan-era FCC unanimously voted to abolish the fairness doctrine on August 4, 1987, it did so on the grounds that it unconstitutionally restricted broadcast journalists’ free speech rights. The FCC Chairman, Dennis R. Patrick, said, “We seek to extend to the electronic press the same First Amendment guarantees that the print media have enjoyed since our country’s inception.”

In response to the FCC’s decision, Ralph Nader called the decision a major setback, saying, “The fairness doctrine is not only constitutionally permissible, it is constitutionally required.” He also added that the fairness doctrine’s repeal would allow broadcasters to “ignore crucial issues or present only one side” of debates. Nader also contended that the fairness doctrine’s repeal would make news judgmental increasingly reflect a business orientation at the cost of issues such as women’s rights, the health effects of smoking, and nuclear power plants’ safety.

In 2005, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting’s (FAIR) Steve Rendall argued that the fairness doctrine was a net benefit to the public and pointed out that it enjoyed support across the political spectrum over the years: 

“[The Fairness Doctrine] did not require that each program be internally balanced, nor did it mandate equal time for opposing points of view. And it didn’t require that the balance of a station’s program lineup be anything like 50/50. Nor, as Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly claimed, was the Fairness Doctrine all that stood between conservative talkshow hosts and the dominance they would attain after the doctrine’s repeal. In fact, not one Fairness Doctrine decision issued by the FCC had ever concerned itself with talkshows. Indeed, the talkshow format was born and flourished while the doctrine was in operation. Before the doctrine was repealed, right-wing hosts frequently dominated talkshow schedules, even in liberal cities, but none was ever muzzled…The Fairness Doctrine simply prohibited stations from broadcasting from a single perspective, day after day, without presenting opposing views… when it was in place, citizen groups used the Fairness Doctrine as a tool to expand speech and debate. For instance, it prevented stations from allowing only one side to be heard on ballot measures. Over the years, it had been supported by grassroots groups across the political spectrum, including the ACLU, National Rifle Association and the right-wing Accuracy In Media.”

Even after the Fairness Doctrine’s 1987 repeal, the editorial and personal-attack provisions remained in effect until 2000, until the FCC repealed them in 2011. After 2011, the Fairness Doctrine’s repeal ushered in the phenomenon of conservative talk radio, creating a new political force and giving broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh tremendous influence. 

When the Fairness Doctrine was fully scrapped in 2011, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee applauded the decision. In a joint statement, Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Greg Walden (R-OR) said: 

“The Fairness Doctrine is a relic of an earlier era when government officials thought they knew best what news and information the American people wanted and needed. The FCC has finally done what it should have done 20 years ago: It has scrapped the Fairness Doctrine once and for all.”


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / simonkr)

AKA

Restore the Fairness Doctrine Act of 2019

Official Title

To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to reinstate the obligation of broadcast licensees to afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance (commonly known as the "Fairness Doctrine").

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on Energy and Commerce
    IntroducedSeptember 19th, 2019
    I’ve been saying this for a LONG time! The Fairness Doctrine made the media tell the TRUTH. It also didn’t allow the slanderous hyper partisan personal attacks. It was a huge mistake to abandon it!
    Like (92)
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    There are so many ways this can be abused. Fox just gives Trump glowing reviews no matter what he does, so why should other news sources be required to let Trump lie on their news shows also. Republicans and Trump are out of control and asking for communist help for Trump for political purposes is dangerous and ridiculous. What is wrong with these Republicans that they are so hell bent on getting this President re-elected they are asking foreign governments for help whether there is proof or not. Trump is bad for Republican politicians and for the party. This is a republic and we should elect our president and other government politicians WITHOUT anyone interfering. And that includes our own sitt President, who thinks he can do anything he wants and get away with it.
    Like (33)
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    The Fairness Doctrine was eliminated under Reagan and crazy conspiracy crap started - such as Breitbart and Fox Entertainment. Their totally lack of accuracy should be litigated.
    Like (46)
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    Wasn't that a requirement at onetime? Seems like Reagan got rid of that. Paved the way for Faux News among others.
    Like (45)
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    Broadcasters should be fair, I understand how this can be quite difficult to administer in today’s world of massive disinformation campaigns. It is still a worthy goal. 1987 was a time before all the political media campaigns to discredit opponents with half-truths, political double-speak and sound bites taken out of context. So, in my definition of fair means giving equal time to fact-checking and to call out political disinformation- if that is what it takes to give equal time. I say let’s go- and see if this doctrine can guide broadcasters to do what is right without getting too beat up for challenging non-fact-based political propaganda.
    Like (41)
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    Since the Republicans killed the Fairness Doctrine, the six billionaires who control all media in the US are patently biased and brazenly disburse corporate propaganda and outright lies. We must protect the press to preserve what’s left of our republic.
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    I had to think about this a few times. I don’t feel that the media content is obligated to anybody. If a news outlets becomes discredited, we must decide whether to continue to support them. For them to offer opposing views only help them; but to make them put anything on is government control.
    Like (19)
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    The loss of the Fairness Doctrine is one of the main reasons news sources have had difficulty maintaining their support from the public as unbiased. By removing the Fairness Doctrine from governing media’s responsibility to give equal time to all sides, the Reagan administration shortsightedly placed us in a position that established the very bias claims we have today. Under the Fairness Doctrine, equal availability for different and opposing views sometimes received more time than their views warranted because they represented minority views. But the value of representing multiple views is that it offers the public an opportunity for discussion and discourse. Right now, with the internet offering us the chance to live inside bubbles of our own choosing, enforcing a public discourse platform is nearly impossible. I fully support legislation to restore the Fairness Doctrine.
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    This was the norm until the GOP complained about it. Now they complain that they don’t get the same coverage or that they’re being “stifled”. Bring back the fairness doctrine and make them put a sock in it already.
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    Stop trying to put a gag in conservative mouths!! Stop trying to take away conservatives little air time that they get!!! Protect the first amendment!!!!!
    Like (11)
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    Stations who just report the facts shouldn’t have to allow differing OPINIONS- because they are just news Many of the “REAL” news broadcasters on NORMAL channels do this already. Fox “FAKE” news doesn’t for the most part. SO YES. EVERY SIDE SHOULD BE PROVIDED WHEN THE BROADCAST IS OPINION.
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    Of course, we must have a balance with sufficient time to present all sides of a case.
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    We must restore this!!!
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    Mainstream media is already liberal biased, so I don’t understand why liberals want to be forced to give half of their time to common sense viewpoints. I don’t want the government censoring the news period.
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    Nay, simple equality is not enough and this is too narrow of a focus. Broadcasters** need to uphold an ethical standard of journalism as outlined in the Ethical Journalisms Initiative. ————- The Ethical Journalism Initiative (EJI) is a global campaign of programmes and activities to support and strengthen quality in media. It was adopted by the World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Moscow in 2007 and was formally launched in 2008. Five Core Principles of Journalism 1. Truth and Accuracy Journalists cannot always guarantee ‘truth’, but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle of journalism. We should always strive for accuracy, give all the relevant facts we have and ensure that they have been checked. When we cannot corroborate information we should say so. 2. Independence Journalists must be independent voices; we should not act, formally or informally, on behalf of special interests whether political, corporate or cultural. We should declare to our editors – or the audience – any of our political affiliations, financial arrangements or other personal information that might constitute a conflict of interest. 3. Fairness and Impartiality Most stories have at least two sides. While there is no obligation to present every side in every piece, stories should be balanced and add context. Objectivity is not always possible, and may not always be desirable (in the face for example of brutality or inhumanity), but impartial reporting builds trust and confidence. 4. Humanity Journalists should do no harm. What we publish or broadcast may be hurtful, but we should be aware of the impact of our words and images on the lives of others. 5. Accountability A sure sign of professionalism and responsible journalism is the ability to hold ourselves accountable. When we commit errors we must correct them and our expressions of regret must be sincere not cynical. We listen to the concerns of our audience. We may not change what readers write or say but we will always provide remedies when we are unfair. 🎯Rapidly followed by Accountable Journalism which is collaborative project aims to be the world’s largest collection of ethical codes of conduct and press organisations. The AccountableJournalism.org website has been developed as a resource to on global media ethics and regulation systems, and provides advice on ethical reporting and dealing with hate speech. Journalism is undergoing a transformative period with the use of social media and user generated content (citizen journalism), but ethics remain vital to good practice. To serve the public, journalism must be accurate, independent, impartial, accountable, and show humanity. And, to enforce these core values, newsrooms and media organizations should adopt a codes of conduct. Likewise, the press must be accountable to the people through press councils, readers editors, or an ombudsmen. Note: ** a modified version of the ethical journalism initiative and accountable journalism campaign needs to be applied to all our elected officials with duties directly connected to indicators of wellbeing as outlined in the: OECD How’s Life? is a statistical report, released every two years, that describes some of the essential aspects of life that shape people’s well-being in OECD and partner countries.
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    That would cut ABC’s, CBS’s and NBC’s news casts in half and then their heads would explode from hearing another point of view.
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    Isn’t that the best way to be well-informed to make a good choice?
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    We do need to restore the fairness doctrine but it must be done intelligently. I am not sure this bill is quite what is needed. All media must be included in any new version of fairness doctrine- including social media. Non-factual claims must clearly be labeled as non - factual! Opinions on different sides of an issue are fine and yes, there should be equal exposure to different opinions. However there can only be one set of facts. Judgements about those facts may vary but the facts will be the facts. For example- it’s a fact that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level. That is a fact. Boiling water makes the best English style tea. That is a widely agreed upon opinion. Electric kettles are most convenient for boiling water. That is a personal opinion. People saying things on tv often make statements as if they are facts, when often times they are not facts. Consumers of mass media and social media must be educated to discern opinions from facts and inferences from opinions ( inferences are taking a position / opinion that is supported by a *logical argument based on facts* ). Please. Put public education programs together on this. Educate people. Do it in schools at every level of education from kindergarten through graduate school. Put it on ‘Sesame Street’ shows. Do public service announcements. And everyone in the media- reporters, anchorwomen and anchormen, news readers, editors, broadcasters and social media influencers - have an obligation to call out opinions vs facts and to call out blatant untruths. Call out lies. Call out propaganda. Simply say ‘the facts do not support your assertion; let’s talk about what exactly are the facts’. !!!! !!!!
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    This would be a limit on free speech and press. Additionally, enforcement of this rule would be skewed by the politics of the FCC and whoever is in charge.
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    Frankly, I always wondered what happened to the fairness doctrine. It seemed like a great idea. It needs to be reinstated immediately
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