Tuesday, August 23, 2011

FCC dumps Fairness Doctrine, other outdated rules

The FCC announced Monday that is was removing 83 media-related rules from the books, as a response to President Obama's push to reduce regulation.  Included among the outdated rules were the Fairness Doctrine (which has not been applied since 1987); "broadcast flag" rules (never enforced), cable tier pricing rules (overturned by 1996 Telecomm Act), and a variety of application and proceedings rules that have either been overturned by courts or waived.  While reducing the number of rules, the move really does nothing to actually reduce regulation, as they weren't in use for years.

The Fairness Doctrine is the most widely known, and had a troubled history of enforcement which led the FCC to formally announce, in 1987, that it was no longer in effect.  With the rise of talk radio, there have been periodic calls for reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, mostly from politicians and individuals who felt that critical and opposing views were getting too much coverage and exposure.  They hoped that re-enforcement would force critics to give them equal time (which it wouldn't - that's a different set of rules), or impose enough of a burden that broadcasters wouldn't address any issue that was even remotely controversial (that is, kill talk radio).  But the Fairness Doctrine was only occasionally applied to political speech - what led to its downfall was when public interest groups started arguing that the rules should be applied to commercial speech in broadcasting - that is, to ads.  Early success with ads for cigarettes (opportunities for anti-smoking & health PSAs) encouraged other attempts to apply the Fairness Doctrine to auto and gasoline commercials (the claim was that these promoted anti-environmental views).  Rather than get into that swamp, and cognizant that just about any advertised product could be claimed to present or support some issue that the Fairness Doctrine might be applied to, the FCC decided to stop enforcing the rule in 1987.

At a minimum, the FCC deserves kudos for clearing out the deadwood, even if it doesn't really reduce the overall number of regulations by much.  However, the FCC's claims of reduced regulatory burden are more spin than reality - and considering that the FCC is simultaneously pushing significant widening of its regulatory authority in other areas, it seems that the net regulatory burden is, or will be, increasing, rather than falling.

Sources - Outdated US media rules to be taken off the books  Reuters
FCC Chairman Genachowski Continues Regulatory Reform to Ease Burden on Businesses; Announces Elimination of 83 Outdated Rules  FCC Press Release

edited to remove extraneous source title

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