Sunday, July 08, 2007

Fairness Doctrine Follow-Up

July 8, 2007, 9:30 a.m.

Fairness Doctrine Follow-Up

State29, who requested I comment on efforts to resuscitate the "Fairness Doctrine," has now replied to my effort to do so. State29, "Nicholas Johnson Explains It All," July 7, 2007.

I won't repeat here everything I wrote, and linked to, yesterday. If you're interested in the topic -- and it does, after all, go to the heart of what America is about and how our political system functions -- you might want to start with the discussion of the subject in what is essentially "Part I" of today's blog entry. Nicholas Johnson, "Resources for Life - Fairness - Updates," July 7, 2007.

(1) I acknowledge that I have lost this battle.
I am not delusional. The more we have turned over our mass media to those few media conglomerates that benefit from controlling its content the more have they been successful in bringing America, and Americans, closer to a near-unanimous chorus of "Mega dittos, Rush." As I concluded a law review article four years ago,
"Hopeless? No. But there are limits to the possible reform of the system of information and mind control we call mass media. It drives our multi-trillion-dollar consumer economy to the enormous profit of a few, and to the loss of the many. It enables the government to mobilize popular support for its wars for oil. Moreover, just as George Orwell's Winston Smith finally came to realize that, "He loved Big Brother," [FN37] we have become a nation of video addicts largely beyond the power or inclination to resist."
Nicholas Johnson, "Forty Years of Wandering in the Wasteland," Federal Communications Law Journal, May 2003, 55 F.C.L.J. 521 (2003). (The footnote is to the last sentence in George Orwell's 1949 novel, 1984. If you are concerned about the levels of personal privacy being invaded these days by the federal government, and others, a re-read of the book will convince you of the common observation that "George Orwell was an optimist.")

2. "The liberal media." Frankly, I've never found the words "liberal" and "conservative" analytically very useful. What are we talking about?

Is anything that advances corporate profits, or that further increases the disparity of income between America's rich and poor, "conservative" and therefore "good" -- while all efforts at consumer protection, or efforts to enable the poor to better themselves, are "liberal" and therefore "bad"? Or are those efforts "conservative" because they are consistent with the teachings of Jesus?

Are the terms merely synonyms for voter registration, or other partisan alignments? Are all Republicans, and the policies they espouse, "conservative" and "good," and all Democrats and their policies "liberal" and "bad"?

Is everything done by government "liberal"? How, then, do increasing military budgets become "conservative" and efforts at diplomacy and cuts in defense spending become "liberal"?

Consider the Interstate highway program. Was it a "liberal" project because it was one of the largest and most expensive socialist engineering projects ever undertaken by government? Or was it "conservative" because it was the proposal of a Republican president (Dwight Eisenhower), or because it benefits the trucking industry?
But since no one else seems to be concerned about such ambiguities, I will use the terms with regard to media policy, and the charge of a "liberal media." Worse yet, I'll just modify the bumper sticker: "The 'liberal media' are just as liberal as their wealthy, conservative, Republican owners and advertisers permit them to be."

Whatever "liberal" may mean to you, you'll find a lot more of it in the mainstream media of virtually any county on earth than you will in our country. And if war is "conservative" and efforts at peace are "liberal" the documentation is overwhelming that our media was the most conservative, the least balanced or "liberal" imaginable when it came to cheerleading for the latest Iraq War. See Norman Solomon's film, "War Made Easy: How Presidents & Pundits Keep Spinniing Us to Death," Media Education Foundation, 2007, and Bill Moyers, "Buying the War" on Bill Moyers Journal, PBS, April 25, 2007.

3. No Fairness Doctrine for Bloggers? State29, see link above, refers to Nat Hentoff's quoting fomer CBS News President Dick Salant:

"Suppose," Salant told me, "the English governor had told Tom Paine that he could go ahead and publish all he liked -- but only if at the back of the pamphlets, he also printed the Royal Governor's views. That command, far from being an implementation of free speech, would have been just the opposite."
I knew Dick Salant. I had great respect for his intelligence. He was capable of much more apropos analogies than that one.

As the old FCC's Fairness Doctrine decisions make clear, and as I explained yesterday, the Fairness Doctrine is not addressed to the authors of books, pamphlets, newspaper column -- or blogs. It is not applicable to the individual programs on radio or television stations. It is addressed to the monopolistic, or oligopolistic, carriers of content. As such, it enhances free speech and the marketplace of ideas, it does not abridge free speech (to use the First Amendment's word).

The proper analogy for Dick Salant's hypothetical would not be a requirement that an individual author, Tom Paine, would have to include a rebuttal to what he wrote in a pamphlet or column. The analogy would be that a printer, licensed by the King and enjoying monopoly privileges and profits, could not -- solely on grounds of its content -- censor, and refuse to print and make available to the public, a publication advocating a position different from that of Tom Paine.

We have addressed some of these issues on the Internet in the form of so-called "network neutrality." No one is suggesting that each blog must contain a refutation of every position advocated by the blog's owner and author -- as Salant tries to suggest. But what if the day comes when one corporation owns and operates the Internet? Would bloggers take the position that it was perfectly all right for that corporation to decide what views could, and could not, be expressed in blogs -- blocking from distribution those it wished to censor? Would bloggers be content to say, "Well, the corporation owns the Internet. Anything we say over it is, in effect, that corporation's free speech -- not ours. Of course, it should be able to decide who does, and does not, get to have opinions in this country, and express them through its facilities"?

I don't think so.

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