What is the Fairness Doctrine?What is the Fairness Doctrine?

What is the Fairness Doctrine?


The Fairness Doctrine was an FCC (Federal Communication Commission) policy that was in place from 1949 to 1987 that required broadcast companies to do two things. First, they had to devote adequate time to controversial public issues and give fair coverage to opposing views on those topics. Second, those broadcasters had to allow reply time for citizens to react to those issues.

This policy was instituted by the FCC in 1949 in response to an FCC Commission Report which decreed that broadcast licenses should only be distributed when they served the public interest. To that end, the institution of the Fairness Doctrine ensured that broadcasters would further the public interest in the communities that they served by devoting some airtime to these public interest topics.

The primary opposition to the Doctrine came from journalists and other media producers, who considered it a violation of their First Amendment rights and that they should have the final decision in balancing and maintaining fairness in stories. In addition, rather than go through the extra effort of finding contrasting opinions for each story, many journalists decided not to cover these controversial topics at all, which created a “chilling effect” in which stories were not covered at all.

By 1985, the FCC decided that the doctrine was no longer useful for its intended purpose and that it violated the First Amendment which governing free speech (even though several Supreme Court cases had upheld its constitutionality in the past). In 1987, the FCC voted to revoke the Fairness Doctrine, though it technically remained on the books until 2011. At that time, the language that implemented it was removed from FCC regulations following a White House executive order for government organizations to eliminate unnecessary or redundant regulations.

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