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Brad Friedman

Brad Friedman

Posted January 28, 2009 | 05:34 PM (EST)

Airwaves We Can Believe In (Or, The Return of Fairness)


Promises on the campaign trail are one thing, as are position statements posted on one's campaign website. But positions posted at Whitehouse.gov by a President are quite another and raise the bar, as far as I'm concerned, in regard to holding feet to the fire for any particular promise, statement, or posted position.

Thus, while perusing President Barack Obama's new White House website, I was happy to find the following on the "Technology" page, as posted in the section titled "Ensure the Full and Free Exchange of Ideas through an Open Internet and Diverse Media Outlets" [italics mine]...

Encourage Diversity in Media Ownership: Encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation's spectrum.

While the Supreme Court has declared many times that the right to vote is protective of all other rights, I'd suggest that the right to be informed, accurately, via our nation's publicly owned airwaves, is the right that ensures our right to vote is ultimately protective of anything.

Yet, under our current hard right-leaning corporate media landscape, every attempted reform, including Election Reform, by any Democratic administration, must overcome a nearly impossible crucible of rightwing opposition -- and more disturbingly, propaganda -- across the nation's public airwaves.

That built-in impediment -- not faced by policy agenda from the Right, which, in fact, benefits from that unholy and unAmerican (yes, unAmerican) imbalance -- must end, if this country is ever to find its equilibrium, and restore itself from the twenty year imbalance that has quietly decayed the nation's sense of Reality-based policy since Ronald Reagan dismantled the Fairness Doctrine in 1987.

That quiet change to 38 years of direct governmental oversight, attempting to ensure responsible corporate use of, and balance on, the publicly owned airwaves since it was first established in 1949, quickly paved the way for the Limbaughs, Hannitys, O'Reillys, Ingrahams, Liddys, Bennetts, Pragers, Medveds and other ditto-headed miscreants, propagandists and ideological-driven Savages to take unfettered and virtually insurmountable 24/7/365 control of the nation's hearts and minds vis a vis the public broadcast spectrum. With that non-stop, disinformative, brainwash-wire pumped around-the-clock into virtually every rush-hour bound vehicle of the American electorate, it was only a matter of time before the same falsely-propped up beliefs and agenda were echoed in the non-regulated realm of corporate cable news.

And, to finally kick that folly into overdrive, President Bill Clinton ensured that whatever independent media voices remained on the public spectrum would soon be swallowed up by corporate behemoths via his Telecommunications Act of 1996 which would destroy any last remnants of protection against local and national media monopolies.

So, here we are, wondering -- no matter who you believe actually won the Presidential Elections of 2000 and 2004 -- how it could be that a failure like George W. Bush could even come close to winning a national election, and how it could be that so many Americans have been duped into voting, again and again and again, against their own best interests in the belief that they are doing the very opposite.

To paraphrase the Bill Clinton campaign of 1992: It's the publicly-owned airwaves, stupid.

They are ours. We issue leases to the corporations -- who have come to falsely believe they own them -- out of the kindness of our public hearts. And with that government largesse, they have a responsibility to the public which has been, by and large, completely abandoned.

Despite the whining you've been hearing from the Wingnut Welfare Queens benefiting from the abandonment of oversight of our airwaves (and if you've yet to hear it, you will) the bar of "regulation" under the Fairness Doctrine was quite minimal. As Steve Rendell of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) wrote, "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," he explained, before noting quite pointedly, "The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented."

That's not much to ask, but even that much is fiercely opposed, naturally, by the wingnuts who currently monopolize virtually every available inch of the public spectrum.

But while the now-dissolved burdens of the Fairness Doctrine were quite low, the responsibility for the nation's media, as noted in the U.S. Constitution's very first amendment in the Bill of Rights, is quite high.

The "Press" is the only industry mentioned by name and given specific dispensation in that Bill of Rights. With that comes responsibility. And it is one that has long ago been abandoned in favor of pure profitability by the very select few who control and determine what it is that Americans will be allowed to hear on the nation's public airwaves.

Enough is enough. Want change? It may happen, incrementally, with the mandate a progressive agenda has finally been given Obama -- at least eight years too late, but he's finally been given it. Want real change? At the pace and breadth that this country actually requires after so many years of polluted decay through backwards, self-defeating policies falsely propped up by the endlessly disinformative propagandistic narrative courtesy of our own public airwaves?

Reform the use of those airwaves. Reform it now. Reform their use boldly and in the spirit of the responsibility spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. "Encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media," and, as Whitehouse.gov now further proposes: "clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation's spectrum."

And let us all say: Amen.