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Repeal of fairness: How Ronald Reagan gave us Fox News and other bias sources

It was called the "Fairness Doctrine" and was created to prevent the American people from receiving misinformation in the disguise of fact. Over 60 years after its creation, the Fairness Doctrine is a thing of the past and the American people are worse off because of it.

President Ronald Reagan vetoed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987
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It started in 1949 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed the policy that mandated that if the holders of broadcast licenses were to present controversial issues of public importance, they would have do so in an honest and balanced way to "afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance." According to, the Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements.

"It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows or editorials."

The history of the Fairness Doctrine can be traced back even further with the passing of the Radio Act of 1927. The Radio Act of 1927 "mandated the FCC's forerunner, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC), to grant broadcasting licenses in such a manner as to ensure that licensees served the public convenience, interest or necessity."

The Fairness Doctrine didn't require that all programs provide equal time to different views, but it did require that different views be presented. While many on the political right, most notably talk show host Rush Limbaugh, accused the Fairness Doctrine of bias, preventing right-wing talk shows from being able to dominate the airwaves, the reality is far different. The Fairness Doctrine didn't and never did intend to apply to talk shows, as it was written before that format even existed. In fact, right-wing radio exploded in popularity while the Fairness Doctrine was still on the books.

Numerous times over the years the Fairness Doctrine was taken to trial in front of the Supreme Curt, mostly notably Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC in 1969, Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo in 1974 and FCC v. League of Women Voters of California in 1984. Each case presented different sides to the issue of the Fairness Doctrine, dealing with newspaper editorials to broadcasting rights.

The 1980s were a death blow to the Fairness Doctrine with the election of the new president, Republican Ronald Reagan. Led by FCC Chairman and former Ronald Reagan campaign staff member, Mark Fowler, the FCC released a report criticizing the Fairness Doctrine and accusing it of violating the First Amendment rights to free speech. Another blow came in the summer of 1987 when then FCC Chairman, Dennis Patrick, repealed the doctrine by a unanimous 4-0 vote in what was known as the Syracuse Peace Council decision.

The Democrat controlled Congress attempted to fight the law in 1987 and passed a bill in the House of Representatives with a 302-102 vote which was then approved by the Senate garnishing a 59-31 vote. The bill would have officially made the Fairness Doctrine law. The bill made its way to the desk of President Reagan, and with staunch opposition, was quickly vetoed. Reagan's argument was that the doctrine was unconstitutional and "simply cannot be reconciled with the freedom of speech and the press secured by the Constitution."

The Fairness Doctrine was plain and simple. When broadcasting news to the general public, those in charge should be required to produce opposite sides to the argument, giving the American people the fair and equal opportunity to decide for themselves where they stand on an issue. In the years following Reagan's veto, one cable news network has dominated the ratings and does so with the slogan "Fair and Balanced."

While the Fox News network claims to be impartial, they have made a name for themselves for being the go-to place for news for all American conservatives, demonizing any and all who oppose their agenda. Other networks are also guilty of taking advantage of the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, namely the more liberal friendly "MSNBC," but it's presented in a different light. MSNBC, the top left-leaning cable news network, presents itself as a liberal or progressive news station, letting potential viewers known right out of the gate what they should expect.

As Fox News dominates cable news and radio show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity continue to reap the benefits of the veto of the Fairness Doctrine, the American people need to remember that the opportunity of equality and balance in broadcast news vanished with the stroke of a pen by Ronald Reagan.

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