Under the pretext of promoting free speech, some members of Congress are trying to re-impose an old muzzle on TV and radio.
This attempt takes the form of a bill that would revive the so-called fairness doctrine, a policy that the Federal Communications Commission rescinded in 1987 after nearly 40 years of experience showed that it backfired.The fairness doctrine simply required broadcasters to present both sides of public issues. It made sense a few decades ago when the American public had access to only a few radio stations and TV channels. But now there are more than 10,000 radio stations plus 1,300 TV outlets and, consequently, that many more opportunities for differing points of view.
Even when the fairness doctrine was justified by the comparative scarcity of broadcast outlets, many broadcasters shied away from controversial issues for fear of getting embroiled in federal red tape and bureaucratic disputes. Despite its good intentions, the government can't tell the communications media what to do and still foster a robust and unfettered exchange of ideas.
By striking down the fairness doctrine, the FCC merely extended to broadcasters some of the same rights under the First Amendment long enjoyed by newspapers. Let's keep it that way.