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Broadcast “Fairness” in the Twenty-First Century

February 16, 2009
The broadcast Fairness Doctrine, which formally existed from 1949 to 1987, required broadcast licensees to air “controversial issues of public importance” and to do so in a “balanced” way. Th e FCC eliminated most aspects of the policy in 1987 during the heyday of Reagan administration deregulation. At least in spirit, the Fairness Doctrine has remained an article of faith among those who believe that freedom of expression is far too precious a commodity to be left in the clutches of private hands. “Fairness” enthusiasts have tended the glowing embers of a philosophy of the First Amendment and broadcast regulation that once was at full fl ame in the 1969 Supreme Court decision Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC.  They have nurtured the fervent hope that, one day, a more regulatory-minded Congress and FCC would reaffi rm the government’s authority to oversee news and public aff airs programming. Some believe that with the Obama administration their day has come....