Right-wing media personality Robert Zelnick doesn’t like the Fairness Doctrine and, like all right-wing media personalities are these days, he’s in attack mode over talk about restoring fairness to the publicly owned airwaves. The most amusing argument in their full throated attack on mandated fairness on the PUBLICLY OWNED airwaves is that it’s not needed any more. Zelnick cites the plethora of “new media”
Today we have cable, DirecTV, satellite radio, the Internet, blogs, and Twitter. Obviously it's a breathtakingly more communication-friendly world than that of 1949, or even 1987, when the commission voted unanimously to repeal the doctrine. It had become a rule without a reason. Today it is even more so.
Breathtakingly, changing the subject, Zelnick lists all of these without mentioning that all of them are largely unavailable without paying a fee, while the PUBLICLY OWNED airwaves are used by the media only on the condition that they serve the public good. That is a real difference. The Fairness Doctrine only applied to public property, the use of which was granted to corporations in the business of making a profit. It's our property that they're using, our representatives have a right to set the terms of that use.
The Fairness Doctrine was killed by Republicans for blatantly partisan motives, the immediate ascendancy of Republican hate talk radio followed. Corporate media, freed of the requirements that they not become self-interested, profit promoting propaganda organs, became self-interested organs of right-wing propaganda. The right-wing possessing the ideology that would best ensure the profits of media companies. None of that was a surprise to anyone of average intelligence, anyone who denies that was the clear purpose of destroying the fairness doctrine is a liar, with no right to expect honest people’s serious consideration. As anyone with even less than average intelligence would conclude, they will have little trouble working in the corporate media or The Hoover Institution. Or the once great and now sadly diminished Boston University. As seen in previous weeks, they’ll also get column space in the once great Boston Globe too. It’s like that in a decayed republic.
The lie that burgeoning “new media” has made the Fairness, public service and diverse ownership requirements moot is made most manifest, ironically, by the pandering of Republicans to Rush Limbaugh over the past month. The Republicans, the fawning servants of property, now find themselves to be subjects of King Rush, the Idi Amin Dada of Republican talk radio. If the gargantuan of Republican hate-talk radio wasn’t a danger, they’d be able to get that embarrassing burden off their back. They only have themselves to blame for the ridicule that they have so richly deserved.
As a former “free press” absolutist, I was once snowed by these kinds of arguments. But there is a higher purpose than “press freedom”, and that is the right of a people to govern themselves and the fact that a legitimate government is impossible unless The People choose it on the basis of accurate information. Those rights constitute the sole means of having a legitimate government. The only available alternatives to that kind of representative democracy are a range of disasters from absolute monarchy to oligarchic (and always patriarchal) plutocracy, to military despotism. In the past thirty years we have had a graduate level course in what happens when The People are propagandized into voting against our best interest*.
I have held for a while now that the right of The People to govern themselves is an inherent right, ours by the fact of our birth. The press is a series of corporations, they don’t have natural rights. Corporations have only those rights which The People give them when that is necessary for us to exercise our real, natural rights. That service is the only reason for “freedom of the press” to have been given. There is no spiritual necessity for it, there is no basis other than in political necessity. When the corporations serve their corporate interests in opposition to the right of The People to accurate information, we have no obligation to defend the now only theoretical rights. We have no obligation to defend the rights of the media to lie and propagandize so that an ignorant population will consistently vote against our own interests. I think we have come to the point in the destruction of democracy when media that actually wants to inform is at a disadvantage because the media has sold itself to the highest bidder. A reporter who wants to tell an unprofitable truth will be marginalized to blogging or some minor organ of the media. The press isn’t free because it prostituted itself for money when it should have been upholding democratic reality.
I think that Barack Obama will find out that the Fairness Doctrine, public service requirements, diversity of ownership, the breaking up of giant media corporations and the freeing of media from ownership by the likes of GE will be necessary to restore a democratic republic. That the First Amendment doesn’t make clear the distinction between natural rights held by people by right of birth, rights created by a free people for corporations in exchange for vital services and the necessities of a legitimate, democratic government can’t be used as an excuse to allow media corporations to do what they’ve done in the past twenty years. "The Founders" had no idea of how an all encompassing modern media could endanger freedom and good government. The financial resources of corporations make them a powerful danger to both The Peoples’ natural rights and the very basis of their electing a legitimate government to serve us.
The simple slogan “press freedom”, has become so automatic that it obscures the clear reality of what that freedom is for and the only reason it is important. The words that might have rung out brightly are rendered empty by the reality that the “free press” has created in the form of Republican-hate talk radio. The false words don’t change the reality of what was created. Those results won’t be healed by invoking the real service to democracy by media heros of a dead past today’s media are fighting like hell to keep from being revived.
The right of The People to govern ourselves on the basis of reality, the real necessities of what is required to govern ourselves and the means of governing ourselves are superior to any right granted to any corporation by the First Amendment.
* You might want to think, long and hard, about the phenomenon of far-right Supreme Court justices who have upheld restrictions on the right of qualified voters to cast a vote and to have that vote counted while scrupulously observing the modern distortion of “press freedom”. Clearly, they hold that the corporations have rights that are more important to the most basic rights of individual citizens. There seems to be a law of politics that when corporations are ascendant the rights of The People will inevitably be damaged.