Healing our Country – Bring Back the Fairness Doctrine

People need to hear all sides of the issues.

Jan. 8, 2021 – This article is not about politics; it is actually about educating the public.  It is an attempt to address a fundamental problem plaguing the exchange of information in our society.

This problem is serious; its results were on public display recently, and the problem clearly has no complete, easy solution.

Everyone is aware of the controversies around social media and the spread of disinformation. Because there are so many individual inputs, there is virtually no way to control social media unless access is limited, and that solution is not acceptable either.

However, broadcast TV and radio are another issue. As stated in the Lexington column in the 8/8/2020 issue of The Economist:

“Thrillingly angry talk-shows are not new to the American airwaves. They became a fixture on radio after the abolition in 1987 of the Fairness Doctrine, which had required broadcasters to give equal treatment to competing points of view. As America was criss-crossed with cable and audiences got access to hundreds of channels, television networks found that they, too, could get higher ratings by zeroing in on one group—conservatives, say—than by trying to cater to everyone. As a bonus, it turned out that opining was cheaper than reporting. Advertisers preferred the more opinionated channels too, within reason, as they were able to tailor their ads to more specific audiences.”

So, once again, the idea of deregulation and the making of money is at the root of our dismantling of a law that previously lessened the kind of polarization that led to our current chaos.

Prior to 1987, broadcasters had to give “equal time” to opposing points of view.

I currently watch news on CNN, Fox, PBS and occasionally look at other channels such as OANN, MSNBC, and even Newsmax to try to get some idea of what each side is saying. I learn things that I think are valid from *every one of them*, but also have to sift through a lot of what I can only frankly call BS.

I do not like the vitriolic tone and constantly frowning faces on the conservative stations and was very disappointed these last few years as the mocking and disdain also became a fixture on CNN.

Even when this country was supposedly “great,” broadcasters were required to present all sides of an issue, and I think that we should seriously consider doing this again.

For example, if you like “fireworks,” put Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Chris Wallace at one table and Chris Cuomo, Don Lemon, Anderson Cooper, and Jake Tapper at another table, BUT have an iron-fisted moderator who slaps them around to keep them from talking out of turn and requires them to present and debate the major issues in the news 😉!!!

This is the only way that I can see out of our bitter partisan divide, because, failing this, too many people in our country will never see the other side of the story.  If everyone stays in the comfortable silos of our current news sources, we only reinforce our comfort and disdain of opposing opinions which we only partially understand at best.

Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine will not solve the problem of disinformation on social media, but, if it becomes widespread, the story eventually bubbles up to the broadcasters. This will at least provide a way to combat disinformation that everyone can see. There is no way, short of some kind of still imperfect AI bot, to monitor all of the dark recesses of social media.

P.S. – A neighbor of mine pointed out that the original Fairness Doctrine did not apply to cable TV. Clearly this needs to be changed. It is also clear that such a proposed regulation would have to combat powerful opposition to become law. If you agree with this idea, I would urge you to contact your Congressional representatives.

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired Ph.D. scientist, teacher (after retiring from industry, taught in private and public high schools and then worked a decade in my own private tutoring business), bioinformatician (managed both the NIH-funded GenBank National Nucleic Acid Sequence Databank and the BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology), IT director at Eos and Raven Biotechnologies, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist, and backpacker!

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