FCC Repeals the Fairness Doctrine - Who Cares?

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Yesterday, FCC Chairman Genachowski issued a press release stating that the FCC was abolishing the Fairness Doctrine as part of its clearing of its book of 83 obsolete media rules. What should the reaction of broadcasters be now that the Fairness Doctrine has been officially abolished? Probably, a collective yawn. In 1987 - almost 25 years ago - the FCC felt that it could not enforce the doctrine as it was an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of speech of broadcasters. Since then, we have had no instances where the FCC has tried to revive the doctrine. While, as we have written before, the revival of the doctrine is a political issue that is from time to time bandied about as something horrible one political party or another plans to impose on America, there really has been no serious attempt to bring the doctrine back in this decade. So the repeal of the actual FCC rule that sets out the doctrine is really inconsequential, as it practically changes nothing.

What remains unknown about yesterday's announcement from the Chairman is just how far this repeal goes. While certain corollaries of the Doctrine - including the political editorializing and personal attack rules - have been specifically mentioned in press reports as being repealed, the one vestige of the doctrine that potentially has some vitality - the Zapple Doctrine compelling a station to provide time to the supporters of one candidate if the station provides time to the supporters of another candidate in a political race, has never specifically been abolished, and is not mentioned in the Chairman's statement.

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