FCC eliminates remaining Fairness Doctrine rules

Tina Nguyen Contributor
Font Size:

Twenty years after then-Chairman Mark Fowler and his Federal Communications Commission deemed the Fairness Doctrine unconstitutional and voted to abolish it, the Commission announced today that it would delete the remaining regulations upholding the policy.

Though the doctrine, which mandated that broadcasters air contrasting viewpoints on controversial political issues, was formally abolished in spirit in 1987, some rules enforcing the doctrine remained on the FCC’s books. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski cited a need to “remove an unnecessary distraction” in eliminating the obsolete rules.

“As I have said, striking this from our books ensures there can be no mistake that what has long been a dead letter remains dead. The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago.”

Created in 1949 by the FCC, the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to devote airtime to discussion of controversial issues of public interest in a balanced and “fair” manner, and in a way that would allow multiple and opposing perspectives to be expressed.  At the time of the doctrine’s creation, few radio and television stations existed in the United States, and the possibility of an ideological monopoly held by the “Big Three” broadcast networks was a tangible threat.

The Fairness Doctrine was finally eliminated during the Reagan administration, with then-President Ronald Reagan himself calling it “unconstitutional.” With the proliferation of cable channels and talk radio ever since, multiple Democratic figures and lawmakers in Congress have tried to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.

Along with the obsolete Fairness Doctrine rules, the FCC will eliminate rules that have a negative impact on businesses, including “broadcast flag” filing requirements and proceeding rules, most created in times of broadcast monopolies.

Follow the author on Twitter at @tina_nguyen.