Many Hope to Bring the Fairness Doctrine Back From the Dead By Guylyn Cummins


In 1987, the Fairness Doctrine died a natural death. So most of us can barely remember what it was, if we have heard of it at all.

Yet, as late as last month, influential lawmakers like Sens. Tom Harking and Debbie Stabenow, were joining others like Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton in calling for its return. We can no longer assume it has been safely interred.

In a nutshell, the Fairness Doctrine required radio and television broadcasters to present all contrasting points of view in any coverage of a controversial issue of public importance. While the First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections generally prohibit the government from telling anyone what they must say, in 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine reasoning that, for many years the Federal Communications Commission (and before it, the Federal Radio Commission) imposed on radio and television broadcasters the requirement to discuss public issues and to give each side of those issues fair coverage.

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