While We Can Still Hear The Message...........

John A. Quayle blueoval57 at VERIZON.NET
Thu Feb 19 23:01:24 MST 2009

Listen Up, While You Still Can
H. Knight

Bill Clinton says America needs the Fairness Doctrine because conservative 
talk radio is sounding "a blatant drumbeat" against the stimulus package. 
He complained on a liberal talk show on Feb. 12 that "there has always been 
a lot of big money to support the right-wing talk shows."

Well, there's big money because millions tune in to those shows. Sponsors 
support programs that people want.

Clinton's call for government-enforced intrusion into the airwaves came 
days after similar remarks by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Debbie Stabenow 
(D-Mich.). The growing liberal affection for the idea of reining in talk 
radio should send a chill up any freedom lover's back.

During the Cold War, people in the Eastern Bloc literally risked their 
lives to listen to Radio Free Europe. Even if local broadcasters had aired 
unfiltered news, the people had no freedom to listen and faced arrest. 
Freedom of speech without the freedom to listen is useless.

Most Americans take for granted the freedom to listen. Since 1987, when the 
Reagan Administration wisely did away with the Fairness Doctrine, talk 
radio has boomed. In fact, talk radio's success has put it in the 
bull's-eye of liberals who want to send radio back to the days of Lawrence 
Welk and monopoly-controlled news.

Ever since conservative talk radio hosts helped kill the immigration bill 
in 2007, liberals have talked about the Fairness Doctrine. Its revival 
wouldn't send government goons to people's doors, but the freedom to listen 
would be crippled.

On January 7, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), along with Sen. James Inhofe 
(R-Okla.) re-introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act to prevent the FCC from 
imposing the Fairness Doctrine. The bill is supported by the Free Speech 
Alliance, a coalition with more than 30 groups, including the American 
Civil Rights Union and the Media Research Center.

On the surface, the Fairness Doctrine sounds like a good idea. Why not 
ensure that differing viewpoints are aired? This might have made sense at 
one time. But the Internet, cable TV, and the radio renaissance have given 
Americans literally thousands of choices. Besides, the federal taxpayer 
already subsidizes 860 National Public Radio stations, and there are three 
other noncommercial liberal networks V Pacifica Radio, American Public 
Media and Public Radio International, which collectively have 31 news/talk 
shows on the radio and Internet.

If the FCC forces stations to carry a response each time Rush Limbaugh 
offers an opinion, this would create unsponsored airtime. During the 
Fairness Doctrine era from 1949 to 1987, many stations skipped political 
talk. The Fairness Doctrine, which should be titled the Censorship 
Doctrine, would effectively end conservative radio discussion, leaving a 
liberal monopoly.

A 2008 report by the Culture and Media Institute, "Unmasking the Myths 
Behind the Fairness Doctrine," provides striking evidence that liberals 
dominate all but talk radio:
    * Broadcast TV news (liberal, 42.1 million daily viewers vs. 0 
    * Top 25 newspapers (liberal 11.7 million circulation vs. 1.3 million 
    * Cable TV news (liberal 182.8 viewers per month vs. 61.6 million 
    * Major newsweeklies (liberal 8.5 million weekly circulation vs. 0 
Conservative talk radio has an estimated weekly audience of 87 million 
listeners vs. liberal programs reaching 24.5 million. The top 13 talk shows 
are all hosted by conservatives such as Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael 
Savage, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin. Only four liberal talk 
show hosts even crack the top 20: Ed Schultz (14) Alan Colmes (17), Thom 
Hartmann (18) and Lionel (20). Liberal radio network Air America is on life 

Fox News Channel dominates cable TV news, with only CNN's Larry King Live 
cracking the top five. But Fox News Channel's top-rated The O'Reilly Factor 
has less than half the viewers (2.6 million) of the lowest-rated network 
news show, CBS Evening News, which averaged 6.1 million viewers in 2008.

Despite the overwhelming liberal media advantage, conservatives are not 
calling for a Fairness Doctrine for newspapers, or broadcast news or 
magazines. In fact, conservatives welcome liberals to the free-wheeling 
world of talk radio, but as competitors, not usurpers. It's one thing to 
work hard to attract a market. It's another to install unwanted voices at 
government gunpoint.

The Fairness Doctrine is not the only threat to talk radio. The FCC could 
establish community oversight boards that would enforce "diversity" of 
ownership and content. Groups such as ACORN would move quickly to dominate 
the boards and squelch politically incorrect viewpoints.

The American people still have a Constitutional guarantee of freedom of 
speech. But it will become much less meaningful if a revived Fairness 
Doctrine or its equivalent deprives them of the freedom to listen.

Mr. Knight is a Senior Fellow with the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) 
at <http://www.theacru.org/home.html>www.theacru.org.
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