Was the Fairness Doctrine a 'Chilling Effect'?: Evidence from the Post-Deregulation Radio Market
Journal of Legal Studies,January 1997.
Posted: 15 Sep 1996
The stated rationale for the Fairness Doctrine was to encourage more information to be aired by radio and TV stations, on the theory that private broadcasters would tend to underprovide a public good - news about important social issues. Yet, the danger has been seen, at the U.S. Supreme Court, the FCC, and elsewhere, that there exists a potentially unconstitutional "chilling effect": The prospect of having to award equal (unpaid) time to dissenting points of view constitutes a tax on controversial speech. After a brief review of the history of the Fairness Doctrine, we develop a model for the supply of informational programming in radio. In that the Doctrine was abolished in 1987, the radio market now allows us to observe licensees' unregulated choices in selecting the profit-maximizing quantity of informational programming. Industry data show a clear break in the trend around 1987, when informational formats began rising relative to others - evidence suggesting just the "chilling effect" feared by the Supreme Court.
JEL Classification: K23, L82
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation