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Spin Control

Tue., Aug. 23, 2011, 11:44 a.m.

The Fairness Doctrine is kaput

The Federal Communications Commission announced this week it is purging its books of all outdated and unused rules. Among them is the Fairness Doctrine, which ceased being a doctrine some 20 years ago.

In days of yore, the Fairness Doctrine was something that required a television or radio station to present matters of "public interest" and to present opposing views on those matters.

Strong supporters or opponents of a controversial topic often invoked it when they believed the other side had been given unfair advantage in some type of coverage.

What killed the Fairness Doctrine wasn't a proliferation of whacky activists lined up to spout nonsense or a pile of obtuse ballot measures that needed 20 minutes to explain and 40 minutes to rebut.

Nope, what did it in was cable.

One key element of the doctrine was that the federal government licensed broadcasters, and the number of channels was limited. So for the right to have one of those precious licenses, a broadcaster had to agree to spend at least some time that wasn't tied up with soap operas, game shows and sitcoms. So they did public interest programming, and presented opposing views, and kept records to show anyone who might be challenging their license renewal.

Then along came cable, with a bazillion channels and public access programming. Suddenly, almost anyone could find a vehicle to bloviate on almost anything. The FCC voted to eliminate the doctrine in 1987, and the courts upheld that decision. But it remained on the books until this week, when the commission did some housecleaning of its rules and regs.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.