August 4, 1987…FCC Rescinds Fairness Doctrine
My Thoughts On The State Of Broadcasting Today…An Editorial
I don’t often climb on my soapbox, but today…I’m going to. I’ve wanted to write about the condition of broadcasting for a while and with this historically significant date at hand, now seems to be as good a time as any.
Like it or not, we can thank the republicans for much of the carnage in radio and television. Ironically, it was the administration of ‘The Great Communicator”, Ronald Reagan that proved once again that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The fun began when Reagan appointed Mark Fowler as head of the FCC in 1980. Fowler was a communications lawyer, but worked with the Reagan For President Committees in 1976 and 1980. He was a big supporter of deregulation, as much of the Reagan clan was.
Under Fowler, the number of television stations any single entity could own grew from seven in 1981 to 12 in 1985. In 1985, and guidelines for minimal amounts of non-entertainment programming are abolished and FCC guidelines on how much advertising can be carried per hour are eliminated. Before this the rule was 8 minutes per hour…today, it’s around 18.
Soon after he became FCC Chairman under President Reagan, Michael Fowler stated his desire to do away with the Fairness Doctrine and on this day in 1987, the “Fairness Doctrine” was eliminated. At its founding the FCC viewed the stations, to which it granted licenses, as “public trustee” and required that they made every reasonable attempt to cover contrasting points of views and present balanced coverage of controversial issues. This was the last time the news in America was actually “fair and balanced”. Sound familiar?
The number of big media companies in the US was already shrinking from around 80 in 1960 to around 50 in 1990, but there was more to come. By the way, if Murdoch’s News Corp is allowed to buy Time Warner, we will go from 6 big television companies to 5.
The biggest mistake ever made in US broadcast history was when President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The bill was written by South Dakota’s Republican Senator Larry Pressler.
At the time, the 104th Congress was controlled by the republicans and Newt Gingrich was in charge. They shut down the government twice, passed bills like the Defense Of Marriage Act and could pass just about anything they wanted as they controlled both the House and Senate.
This 1996 law is generally regarded as one of the most important pieces of legislation regulating media ownership ever written. Under this, the radio industry experienced unprecedented consolidation after the 40-station ownership cap is lifted. Clear Channel Communications owns 1200 stations, in all 50 states reaching more than 110 million listeners every week. Television is not in any better shape.
With unlimited ownership and no fairness doctrine in place, Clear Channel took most of thier AM stations talk and gave the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world a stage like no one had ever seen.
I’ve been in radio and television for 50 years and have to admit that I have not listed to terrestrial radio since satellite radio became available about 15 years ago. That in itself is a pretty sad commentary on the state of media in the US. – Bobby Ellerbee
Aside from the facts, this is just my opinion and you may agree or disagree, but I remind you to keep your comments civil. Enjoy and share.