By Adriana Doria
The Fairness Doctrine of 1949 was first introduced by the Federal Communications Commission and aimed to promote and maintain unbiased and balanced news across all platforms. The doctrine had two main principles: the first being that the discussion of controversial principles in any news capacity must be presented at all times and the second was that these networks and journalists must present both sides to those controversial principles.
Even though the doctrine required both points of view to a controversial principle to be presented, this did not mean that opinion shows were out of the picture. It meant that any opinion-based show still had to present both sides in some capacity, but not necessarily dedicate equal time to these sides.
The 2016 GOP platform stated firm support for the abolishment of the 1949 Fairness Doctrine after showing firm support for the first amendment. While freedom of speech is important, that must be balanced with equal representation of news stories across America. The Fairness Doctrine at its root has many beneficial elements that, if updated, could be very beneficial to journalism today.
The Fairness Doctrine is over 50 years old and with the current news and political climate America is faced with today, and could benefit from some updates. Adding and updating the Doctrine to apply more to present-day journalism while also protecting individuals and companies’ first amendment rights would help gain more support from right-wing networks and journalists.
It is important for news organizations, especially those in television and radio, to present balanced news that is free from bias. With that being said, opinion shows serve a valuable purpose to the cable news profession. However, these opinion shows should be properly and publicly categorized as “opinion” or “commentary” to separate such programs from news segments that display stories of the hour and breaking headlines. This would allow for the viewers to know whether they are being presented headlines or commentary on headlines.
Oftentimes when you read a newspaper, whether it is print or online, there are a variety of sections you can decipher between. One of those sections labeled as “opinion” where the writers are solely presenting an often one-sided opinion on a topic or issue. This way the reader is clear what type of information they are reading, and based on their preferences can browse through the sections and pick for themselves.
However, some conservative thinkers would argue that political talk shows would lose all visibility with the Fairness Doctrine in place, but with these proposed labeling policies, opinion-based shows will likely get the same attention as they do in the present day. In addition, by implementing this amendment to the doctrine, news networks would gain more credibility because their readers would be presented up front what type of news they are watching. This would lead there to be more understanding and transparency from the news outlets.
While the roots of the doctrine are agreeable in principle, government control of the free dissemination of information should be limited. A revised GOP platform should reflect this notion due to the opinionated tilt we see in mainstream media when covering issues of public importance, while also leaving room for television and radio personalities to dedicate segments separate from the news where they share their opinions freely.