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ěLocalism:î or The Fairness Doctrine By Another Name

Steven Titch
November 25, 2008, 12:17pm

Apparently talk about reviving the Fairness Doctrine is out. The call for "localism" is in. Democratic leaders in Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have made no secret of their wish to re-impose the misnamed Fairness Doctrine on AM radio. The rule, which requires stations to give equal time to all viewpoints, is aimed at reducing the amount of conservative-oriented political programming, typified by such personalities as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, on AM radio. Well aware of the constitutional problems behind such a move, the new tactic has been to cloak calls for political content control under the veil of "localism." Here's an excerpt from a Hollywood Reporter article today available through msnbc.com.
[President-elect Barack] Obama has called on Henry Rivera, who was a commissioner in the 1980s when the Fairness Doctrine existed, to oversee the FCC transition process. Rivera is a supporter of bringing back the [Fairness Doctrine] provisions. And heading Obama's overall transition team is John Podesta, head of liberal think tank the Center for American Progress. Last year, the CAP issued a report called "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio." While the CAP stopped short of advocating a return of the Fairness Doctrine, it did support more stringent adherence to so-called localism, which critics consider a back door to requiring that stations ditch some of their conservative hosts. The FCC is considering the matter now, weighing such questions as whether to require stations to create community advisory boards made up of local officials and other community leaders. The boards would tell radio executives whether the content they broadcast is adequately addressing the needs of the community, subject to the board's interpretation.
Of course, there's another way the community tells a radio station whether they are addressing local needs–ratings. To the Democrats' consternation, however, they go up when conservative personalities are on the air and down when liberal hosts take the mike. And even that's a generalization. As you might expect, in markets where the population skews liberal, liberal radio personalities such as Bree Walker and Stephanie Miller do quite well. What's truly disturbing, however, is that the Congressional Democrats and the media issue advisors on Obama's transition team make it clear that they see the preponderance of conservative opinion on talk radio as a problem that needs coercive rectification. Before going any further, they need to explain why. Arguing that a station's right-wing talk format does not appeal to 100 percent of local listenership doesn't fly. If this were truly the aim, "localism" supporters would be demanding that Top 40 format stations set aside time for classical music; or that sports talk stations set aside several hours a day to cover the local arts scene. Furthermore, no newspaper, magazine, local theater group or arts council would countenance a law the requiring it to hold forums with "local officials" and "community leaders" (read politicians and political activists) and face federal fines if, in the opinion of those "officials" and "leaders," its material did not toe a satisfactory political line. It's not up to the government to fashion laws designed to force radio, or any other platform for speech, to be either more "progressive" or less. "Localism," or what ever name you want to give it, is censorship. It is all about one thing: regulating the political viewpoints that can be expressed on local radio.


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