Fairness Doctrine

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The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the Federal Communications Commission, spanning from 1949 to 1987, that required radio and television stations to air all sides of important or controversial issues, and give equal time to all candidates. The Supreme Court upheld the Fairness Doctrine in 1969, in Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC.

In 1986, a federal court of appeals ruled that the Fairness Doctrine was not law and could be overturned without Congressional approval. Congress responded by passing a bill in 1987 to establish the doctrine as law. It received 3-1 support in the House and 2-1 support in the Senate. The support was broadly bipartisan, with even Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Jesse Helms voting in favor of it. But President Ronald Reagan vetoed it, and Congress did not override the veto.

110th Congress

House vote to ban FCC from instituting Fairness Doctrine

On June 28, 2007, the House voted to ban the FCC from using public funds to enforce the Fairness Doctrine. The vote specifically rejected the potential for imposing the Fairness Doctrine on media outlets that feature conservative radio hosts like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. The vote was largely a Republican rebuke to Democratic lawmakers who had recently suggested that reinstating the Fairness Doctrine might be worth investigating, in light of talk radio's influence on debate over the Senate's efforts to pass comprehensive immigration legislation.[1]

Criticism and commendation

Heritage Foundation opposes "Un-Fairness Doctrine"

James Gattuso of the Heritage Foundation opposed the Fairness Doctrine, arguing that it easily allowed politicians to shut out opposing viewpoints by imposing costly lawsuits on media programs. He also argued that when the doctrine was in place, political speech was stifled on the airwaves. Radio shows would avoid controversial subjects so as to avoid being subject to the doctrine. Once the doctrine was repealed, he argued, there was growth in political discussion in the media. He wrote, "...broadcasters--especially radio broadcasters--became much more willing to air controversial points of view, in large part because of the repeal of the FCC's fairness rule. Most notably, talk radio, which had been a relatively rare format, exploded in scope and popularity."[2]

He strongly opposed the attempted resurgence of the doctrine, saying, "The Federal Communications Commission did the right thing 20 years ago in throwing this unnecessary, counter-productive, and unwise restriction on speech into the regulatory dustbin. It should be left there. To do otherwise would be dangerous and unconstitutional."[3]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Alexander Bolton, "House votes to ban FCC on ‘fairness’," The Hill, June 29, 2007.
  2. James Gattuso, "Back to Muzak? Congress and the Un-Fairness Doctrine," Heritage Foundation, May 23, 2007.
  3. James Gattuso, "Back to Muzak? Congress and the Un-Fairness Doctrine," Heritage Foundation, May 23, 2007.

External resources

External articles