Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=1462192
 


 



Broadcast Localism and the Lessons of the Fairness Doctrine


John Samples


Cato Institute


Cato Policy Analysis Series, No. 639, May 27, 2009

Abstract:     
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution recognizes a laissez-faire policy toward speech and the press. The Framers of the Bill of Rights worried that the self-interest of politicians fostered suppression of speech. In contrast, some constitutional theorists have argued that the Constitution empowers, rather than restricts, the federal government to manage speech in order to attain the values implicit in the First Amendment.

The government managed broadcast speech for some time, in part through the Fairness Doctrine, which was said to promote balanced public debate and "an uninhibited marketplace of ideas." The history of the Fairness Doctrine confirms the validity of the concerns of the Framers of the First Amendment, because federal officials and their agents used and sought to use the Fairness Doctrine to silence critics of three presidencies. Broadcasters adapted to the Fairness Doctrine by avoiding controversial speech, thereby chilling public debate on vital matters.

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to manage broadcast speech by imposing localism requirements, including content requirements and advisory boards to oversee managing stations. This proposal limits the editorial independence of license holders to serve the public interest. The history of the Fairness Doctrine suggests that federal officials who make and enforce such policies are more concerned with limiting political debate than they are with advancing local concerns or the public interest. Like the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC's localism initiative poses the risk of restricting speech. Our unhappy experience with the Fairness Doctrine suggests that imposing localism mandates on broadcasters is unlikely to serve the public interest in constitutional propriety and uninhibited political debate.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 16

Keywords: Communications Act of 1934, Managed Speech, Censorship, Fairness Doctrine, First Amendment, Free Speech, FCC, Broadcast Localism, Red Lion Broadcasting Company, Red Lion

JEL Classification: M38, K2, K29

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Date posted: August 26, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Samples, John, Broadcast Localism and the Lessons of the Fairness Doctrine. Cato Policy Analysis Series, No. 639, May 27, 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1462192

Contact Information

John Samples (Contact Author)
Cato Institute ( email )
1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States
2027895248 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.cato.org/people/john-samples
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