Saturday, January 23, 2010

Keep America Informed - Reinstate The Fairness Doctrine


This is a revised version of a previous article that made what turned out to be an unwarranted assumption. This version doesn't assume that Americans under thirty are familiar with what The Fairness Doctrine entailed, and thus, what makes its reinstatement particularly important to them, and especially their children. 

Keep America Informed - Reinstate The Fairness Doctrine

The American news media is going to hell in a handbasket. It has become so intertwined with the corporate power structure that the only way one can get an accurate fix on what's going on in the United States is to turn to the BBC or various media outlets from other countries.

What immediately comes to mind is the way the U.S. news media jumped between the sheets with the administration during the invasion of Iraq. Instead of standing back and taking an objective look at the rationale being literally stuffed down our throats, they immediately went into cheerleader mode. They referred to it as being "embedded," when it should have been referred to it as being "in-bed-with."

The revelation of the Downing Street Memo is a case in point. The Downing Street Memo was a Top Secrete document to Tony Blair, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, issued on July 23, 2002. It was written by Matthew Rycroft, a foreign aide to the Prime Minister, after meeting with the Bush Administration. The document pointed out in graphic detail the Bush administration's game plan to deceive the world in order to justify its decision to invade Iraq. It pointed out that "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

In short, eight months prior to the invasion of Iraq this official U.K. document indicated that Bush wanted to go after Saddam, but they were going to have to lie to justify it. The memo was leaked by the British press in 2005. But in spite of the senseless deaths of tens of thousands of innocent human beings - including our own American troops - as a direct result of this criminal deception, it's been all but ignored by the American media. They've given more coverage to Tiger Woods' sex life.

The behavior of the mainstream media during that period, and since, clearly demonstrates why it's so incumbent upon us to reinstate The Fairness Doctrine. Most Republicans, and many others in Washington, claim that TFD is an attack on free speech, but it's just the opposite. In fact, it ensures the freedom of speech of those who would indeed keep us informed, but are currently being denied equal access to the airways by media organizations like Fox News and many other news organizations that one wouldn't expect, as a result of Fox's impact on the industry.

So what's actually an attack on our freedom of speech are network news organizations using the public airways and conduits to spread lies, disinformation, or engage in omissions, that have a negative impact on society by distorting public policy, then preventing knowledgeable parties access to those same conduits to present the other side of the issue. That's exactly what Fox News specializes in for political purposes, and other media organizations follow, if not with a political motive, as a simple matter of dollars and cents.

An example of just how sucesseful the corporate interests have been in promoting their position against TFD since its demise, I broached this issue on KOS, and was attacked so severely - by liberals! - that I felt like I was addressing a Teabagger's convention. One commenter accused me of simply wanting to throw Rush Limbaugh off the air; another indicated that liberals just had to learn to compete with the conservative media. Then there was one commenter who said, "I don't want the government dictating to me what I have to see or hear." The TFD was not designed to do any of those things - it simply ensured that the American public wasn't deluged with one-sided lies and disinformation.

I saw that experience as directly substantiating my point for the need to reinstate TFD. Many young people under the age of thirty have next to no understanding of what TFD entailed, and I'm certain that's due directly to the brutal attack and near destruction of our educational system. And that's exactly what the Corporatocracy wants, massive hords of undereducated young people who have only two options - to either be forced to accept the chump-change that the corporations decide to throw their way, or have to enlist in an underpaid military to be used as cannon fodder in the corporate exploitation of the world's limited resources.

Thus, the problem with the Fairness Doctrine from the point of view of the corporatocracy are two - it served to contradict their lies, and it educated the public. In fact, it wasn't until it was struck down through Republican fiat, that conservatives ran out, bought control of the nation's media (especially AM radio stations), fired the liberals, and all of this craziness and disinformation started.

During the sixties and seventies there were highly informative, C-Span-like, talk shows all over the radio and television dial. Some were more conservative leaning, and others leaned more to the left - and no, the government wasn't always looking over their shoulder. The broadcasters avoided being challenged as biased by always having one conservative and one liberal on the show together debating the issues. Or if a show had a liberal on one day, they'd have a conservative on the next.

The hosts were perfectly free to be openly liberal or conservative - and they indeed were. Their political orientation would be revealed through how vigorously they interviewed the guests that they interviewed. But on the other hand, a host could be assured that if he claimed that healthcare reform created death panels, he'd be challenged by someone on the opposing side of the issue demanding equal time to present their point of view. The challenger was generally an expert on the issue under discussion, and would explain the rationale that led to the claim of death panels, and why that rationale was in error, or misleading.

The only time the government got involved was if the broadcaster denied the challenger equal time. In which case, the challenger would document his or her case and bring the issue before the Federal Communications Commission. No one had to prove who was right or wrong on the policy issue itself. All the challenger had to prove was that only one side of the issue was presented, and if the broadcaster had continuous problems in this area, various organizations would document the problem and come forward to challenge the broadcaster's license.

The Fairness Doctrine was close to a perfect solution to prevent the nation from being deluged with propaganda. The American people have just as much right to know the facts about what's being fed into the minds of our children as we do what's going into the food that we eat, and TFD ensures just that. It allowed interested parties equal time to correct the record when licensed broadcasters abused the public airways, and other broadcasting conduits, to distort the facts regarding public policy.

The issue has now been further complicated, however, with the advent of new technology such as satellite and cable systems. Now, even with TFD in place, a determined rogue organization can try to circumvent it by beaming into our homes from outside our borders, so in addition to reinstating TFD, new laws need to be put into place to specifically address the issue of intent.

If it is clearly the intent of an organization to beam disinformation into America's homes from outside our borders to circumvent TFD to negatively impact public policy, there should be legal sanctions. If the organization is found to be domestic in origin, severe legal or regulatory action should be taken. If it is a foreign organization that's purposely trying to distort the facts on U.S. domestic policy, it should be given a choice - either adhere to the precepts of TFD, or be deprived access to the American market.

So, should the internet be regulated as well?

In a word, no. The internet falls into an entirely different category than broadcasting. The internet falls into the same category as books, newspapers, and magazines. Essentially, it's an electronic publication. On the internet one has to actively seek out disinformation if one wants it, and that's the user's right. But the broadcasting industry is so powerfully pervasive that the public can be inadvertently subjected to harmful disinformation on public policy.

In addition, since our educational system is under such a brutal attack, responsible broadcasters should be rewarded with generous tax incentives to incorporate entertaining educational content into their schedules. Knowledge, presented in a creative and insightful way can be just as entertaining, in fact, even more entertaining, than violence, corruption, and decadence.

Any good story involves people overcoming adversity. Why does that have to be with a gun? Millions of people across this country show what they're made of by dealing with adversity of every kind on a daily basis, yet, only a small minority of them address those issues with a gun, or violence of any kind. Why can't we show their stories? Why can't we show our young men that it takes more manhood to raise a child than rob a bank?

All one has to do is turn on the television and read the programming descriptions to understand why we're faced with so much turmoil in this country - and I can't help but think it's by design. We need to get a handle on our broadcasting industry, and the very first step in that direction should be to reinstate TFD in order to tear the megaphone from the hands of big business.

The one thing that corporations have a healthy respect for is the dollar. Thus, the very best thing about TFD is it gives the networks an economic incentive to be balanced - or at least, not tell blantant lies. If FOX News had to give equal air time for rebuttal every time Glenn Beck told a lie, it would be cost prohibitive. They wouldn't have any time left for commercials, so they'd be forced to be a responsible broadcaster.

So we need to address this issue immediately, while we still have a country. Because as long as we fail to address this matter, we're giving carte blanche to the most greedy and corrupt among us. We've handed over full control of our news media, and thereby, public policy.

Eric L. Wattree

Religious bigotry: It's not that I hate everyone who doesn't look, think, and act like me - it's just that God does.

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