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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Fairness Doctrine as fair as a double-sided coin

    I have to say something I thought would never be true: I agree with Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. Though these two talking heads and I are on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, the common ground I find myself on concerns the draconian Fairness Doctrine, which has seen signs of a possible return.

    Enacted in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine mandated that holders of public broadcast licenses present multiple perspectives on important public issues. This act was fueled by a paranoia that the big three – NBC, ABC, and CBS – would be able to use their disproportionate access into the homes of American families to shape public opinion, not based solely on facts, but with the employment of any diabolical agenda that network executives wanted to pursue.

    The likelihood of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine is similar to the chances of snow in urban Tucson, which incidentally happened several weeks ago. However, the mere fact that members of Congress have called for its reinstatement or even pronounced passive support for this doctrine is an alarming, though moderate, trend. In today’s media environment, which has turned from a three-way monopoly into a Wild West shootout, calling for any sort of “”fairness”” is oxymoronic to the point of laughter.

    Accompanied by no less than John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi, Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow stated, “”I feel like that’s going to happen,”” referring to a possible reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine. Hiding behind an absurd concept of fairness, she claims that the goal of this doctrine would be to provide accountability to the airwaves.

    Instead of making media figures accountable for their positions, this makes them accountable for someone else’s position. Having to present multiple perspectives on an issue is the responsibility of the media world as a whole. When Bill O’Reilly spends 15 minutes ripping on President Obama, Chris Matthews spends the same time praising his eloquence and leadership ability. The need for “”fairness,”” whatever antiquated definition some members of

    Congress prefer, is provided by the proliferation of cable TV and popularity of polarized pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann. Requiring news organizations to provide multiple perspectives, with loose regulations regarding time and specificity, could result in a robust presentation of one view and near-effortless depiction of a contrary view.

    Despite varied support in Congress, the fortunes of this bill ultimately rest with President Obama. Unlikely to get through Congress or even come to a full vote, the Fairness Doctrine has been clearly opposed by President Obama, who would bring down the veto hammer on first moments’ notice. Once again, though, the danger of this type of movement stands in the logic and ideology of the doctrine.

    Some proponents of the Fairness Doctrine might liken this to the process of college classes. It’s important for professors to highlight the different positions in matters such as free trade. However, after describing the benefits of both open and protectionist policies, most professors make conclusions based on historical trends and empirical evidence. TV networks, usually allotted a half hour for their news, would have to condense most of their material to present multiple perspectives and then make a haphazard conclusion based on unstable foundations.

    According to the Academic Bill of Rights from Students for Academic Freedom, “”there is no humanly accessible truth that is not in principle open to challenge.”” That is, if the conception of “”fair”” were to come from the Fairness Doctrine, every theory would need multiple perspectives to be presented, even in the presence of empirical evidence supporting one theory over another.

    The plethora of perspectives pertaining to controversial economic and political issues would create a free-for-all in which countless news organizations pursue overlapping, impassionate presentations in a watered-down media environment that even a Sham Wow couldn’t clean up.

    Instead of crusading for the multiple-perspective Fairness Doctrine, Congress should make legislation that requires media outlets to cover completely different stories and perspectives, so viewers don’t have to put up with Alex Rodriquez on ESPN, Fox News, MSNBC, and every other station with a camera and microphone. If every organization were to present a unique, out-of-the-box perspective, there would be no limit to the proliferation of free ideas.

    Daniel Sotelo is a political science junior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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