Saturday, July 07, 2007

Resources for Life - Fairness - Updates

July 7, 2007, 7:15, 8:15, 9:30, 10:40, 11:40 a.m. [times reflect additions to the entry -- for the benefit of those few individuals who check back occasionally during the day -- as well as reflecting the fact that what is called "life" occasionally interrupts blogging]

Resources for Life Conference Today. You might want to consider attending the Resources for Life Conference, 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., today July 7, Iowa City Public Library, Meeting Room A. From 3:15 to 4:00 p.m. I'll be speaking and moderating a discussion with those in attendance on what the conference organizer has titled, "Activism: Having a Positive Impact on the World." You can find more details about the conference here.

The way I think about Resources for Life, which primarily exits as a very extensive Web site, is as a non-commercial, non-partisan, non-denominational, free offering of a range of online and other resources dealing with virtually every aspect of living -- as reflected in the links from that opening Web page. It is the production of Gregory Johnson (who works -- and teaches a free course at the Public Library -- as a computer consultant) and is best known in other circles as the president of the Small House Society.

His small house movement has been the subject of features in -- among a great many other media -- the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Australian Broadcasting, Time Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, National Public Radio, Oprah Winfrey -- and locally in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, and The Gazette, as well as numerous local television stations. He doesn't sell the houses, but will probably be saying something about his house, and approach to simpler living generally, during the conference.

(Full disclosure: Gregory Johnson is my son.)

The Fairness Doctrine Today's a slow enough news day that I can finally turn to State29's request. A week or so ago State29 asked my opinion about what he calls the "unfairness doctrine" of the FCC (State29, "Who Decides What's Fair?" June 27, 2007) ("Considering that Iowa's own Nicholas Johnson was the FCC Commish during part of the Johnson and Nixon years, I'd be interested in reading his current opinion on a possible revival of the Unfairness Doctrine").

I started by Googling "Nicholas Johnson" and "fairness doctrine" just to see what I've written about it over the years. There were 422 hits on things I either didn't know about or had long since forgotten. I only looked at a few before finding what I thought was the best short answer -- though longer than what I'm going to write here this morning. It's contained in Nicholas Johnson, "With Due Regard for the Opinions of Others," California Lawyer, vol. 8, August 1988, pp. 52-55. If State29 is still interested, or there is anyone else reading this who is, I'd suggest starting with that. It's short, and yet pretty thorough.

For the views of U.S. Supreme Court justices in an 8-0 decision invoking an analysis of the issues and law similar to that which I set forth a year earlier, see Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 395 U.S. 367 (1969). It's very readable; take a look at it, you'll see.

Meanwhile, here are some summary points; most are spelled out in that piece.

I believe "with great power goes great responsibility" and that none has greater power in our time than those controlling the mass media. The "great power" I described in Nicholas Johnson, "The Media Barons and the Public Interest: An FCC Commissioner's Warning," The Atlantic, June 1968 (still maintained 40 years later on The Atlantic's Web site, though available only to subscribers) has multiplied many fold since then.

Even if one ignores, or believes no longer applicable, the earlier rational underpinnings of the Fairness Doctrine -- "the public owns the airwaves" (i.e., station "owners" are limited-term licensees, licensed to serve "the public interest, convenience and necessity"); the government's intrusion into the allocation system makes the licensee's station the equivalent of a "public forum" open to all views; the relative shortage of frequencies (there are still more people who would like to broadcast than there are available frequencies) results in a First Amendment requirement that some provision must be made for a range of views -- the requirements of a democratic society, and the moral obligations of those sitting astride a democracy's mass media, still require some equivalent of the Fairness Doctrine.

The Fairness Doctrine requires no more than what a profit-maximizing media owner, or responsible professional journalist, would do anyway. Its requirements are but two: a licensee must make some effort to deal with "controversial issues of local importance" (i.e., it cannot just be "a jukebox with commercials"), and when presenting controversial issues it must make some effort to present a range of views. "Controversy" sells papers and attracts viewers. Presenting a range of views is what creates, or perpetuates, the controversy. It was never much of a problem for responsible broadcasters, and news directors often actually welcomed it as a defense against aggressive sales managers (wanting to preserve advertising revenue by killing stories advertisers wouldn't like).

That the requirements are so minimal is probably a part of the reason that no station ever lost its license solely because of Fairness Doctrine violations. (See California Lawyer article, linked above.)

And what does the Fairness Doctrine prohibit? Essentially nothing.

There are limitations on a broadcaster's speech. They may be subject to a defamation suit. They may violate the copyright laws. They may engage in false and misleading advertising. They may reveal national security secrets. Other agencies and interests may wish to affect broadcasters' speech, but those are not matters for the FCC.

And there are essentially no limitations -- or detailed requirements -- of the Fairness Doctrine. Subject to the non-licensing restrictions mentioned above, a broadcaster can say anything he or she wants; there are no FCC limitations; they can attack others, misrepresent, be outrageously partisan, even be defamatory -- the FCC doesn't care, and the Fairness Doctrine doesn't require anything affecting their speech.

There is no requirement that any given programming be put on the air -- or taken off. There are no requirements as to format. There is not a requirement of "equal time." There is no requirement that each program be balanced; the Fairness Doctrine only addresses the overall programming of the licensee. (To respond to a charge of those opposing the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, there are two reasons why Rush Limbaugh would not only not be taken off the air but would not be affected in any way by application of the Fairness Doctrine: (1) he is not a licensee, he is a program supplier, and (2) there is no Fairness Doctrine requirement that his program be balanced.) There is no requirement that a particular contrasting view be aired. The Fairness Doctrine does not trigger a right in any given individual to respond. (The station can use its own personnel if it wishes, or anyone it chooses.)

Essentially the only limitation the Fairness Doctrine did impose was that a licensee could not use the public's airwaves as an unrelieved instrument of propaganda for a single viewpoint while censoring all other views.

Our founders believed a "marketplace of ideas" an essential foundation for a self-governing people. I believe they were right. But as I've often said, "the ideas of the marketplace [i.e., advertising-dependent programming] do not make for a marketplace of ideas." Moreover, the more concentration of control of the mass media we have the greater this problem becomes.

This is only a sampling of things I could say -- and have said -- on the subject. Anyone interested in more please check the links, above.

Wellmark's College Since my prior blog entries here even more have joined the chorus of "What were they thinking?!" regarding UI administrators seriously proposing to rename the UI College of Public Health the "Wellmark Blue Cross-Blue Shield College of Public Health."

Editorial, "Honor People, Not Businesses at UI," The Gazette, July 7, 2007, p. A4.

Diane Heldt, "Wellmark naming rejected by faculty; They fear naming college for insurer would affect research,"
The Gazette, July 6, 2007, p. A1.

Lenni W. Kangas, "Regents Should Junk Proposal,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 6, 2007.

Brenda M. Cruikshank, "Major Ethical Issue in Renaming School,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 7, 2007, p. A13.

State29 now has a follow-up on the subject to his earlier State29, "Enron Field," July 3, 2007: State29, "Enron Field, Part Deux," July 6, 2007.

On a related topic (though not having to do with naming rights) the Register takes Wellmark to task for a proposal and secret process that is "not how it should work" and "not in the public's best interest." Editorial, "Public still in dark about hospital plans; Building proposals should get state review," Des Moines Register, July 7, 2007.

And in . . .

. . . Other News One of our boys made it -- deservedly. John Deeth looks good in his raspberry beret on page one of The Gazette. Rod Boshart, "Clogged With Blogs; For Better or for Worse, 1.5 million blogs bring seismic Change to Political Landscape," The Gazette, July 6, 2007, p. A1.

And, to no one's surprise, The Register has come out flatfooted to acknowledge that it really thinks it would be a cool move to shift taxes from those who own property to those who can't afford it. Editorial, "Vote 'Yes' to this Tax Increase; It's an Investment in Region's Quality of Life," Des Moines Register, July 5, 2007 (there has been a consistent drumbeat of opposition to the Register's stories and opinion supporting this tax shift from wealthy to poor, summed up succinctly in the first comment on the page: "The Register must think its readers are stupid"). And see Jeff Eckhoff, "More than $357,250 was spent on consultants for 'Destiny' project," Des Moines Register, July 7, 2007.

But by the next day the paper had redeemed itself a bit with an editorial totally consistent with my earlier comments about Michael Moore's film, "Sicko," and much more positive than its headline suggests. Editorial, "Yes, 'Sicko' is Propaganda, but it Shows Need for Reform," Des Moines Register, July 6, 2007;

and, speaking of "Sicko," in response to requests for how someone in Iowa City can see it, a Rapid Response entry reports:

"According to Michael Moore's website

Cedar Rapids: Now showing

Wehrenberg Galaxy 16 Theatres at 6840 Council Street NE"
# # #


John Neff said...

Sorry the electromagnetic spectrum does not belong to us. We require a license for a transmitter in a very limited portion of the spectrum and if we wanted to we could also require a license for a receiver as well. Some of us who recall the chaos of CB radio when people chattering saturated the band and made it temporarily useless. Obviously transmission has to be restricted.

chris said...

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