Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How to Destroy the Free Press

The Federal Communications Commission is a government agency established in 1934 to regulate the public airwaves to maximize "the public interest and to encourage a diversity of voices so as to promote a vibrant democracy." To chair the agency, Reagan appointed Mark S. Fowler, a communications lawyer who had served on the Reagan campaign staffs in 1976 and 1980. "The perception of broadcasters as community trustees should be replaced by a view of broadcasters as marketplace participants," Fowler said. Fowler famously compared the TV broadcast media to a "toaster with pictures." And he declared his contempt for public affairs journalism as "Dudley Do-Good" programming.

The Fairness Doctrine

The regulations, adopted by the FCC in 1949, were written to ensure that licensed broadcasters provided ample opportunity for contrasting points of view. Their premise was that scarce broadcast licenses—unlike readily available printing presses—made it incumbent on broadcasters to air all sides of controversial issues, a standard that they had to meet continually to win license renewals.

..The Kennedy administration used the Fairness Doctrine to challenge the imbalanced presentations of right-wing radio broadcasters. And throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Fairness Doctrine was invoked by, among others,parties seeking time to respond to biased broadcasters of the religious Right.

Deregulation means Open Season for Corporations

..At the FCC, he (Fowler) would be called "the Mad Monk of de-regulation."Assuming the reins of the commission, he set about "pruning, chopping, slashing, eliminating, burying and deep-sixing" fifty years of regulations that guarded against monopolistic practices and excessive commercialism and protected the public interest standard. Rupert Murdoch, who would win favorable regulatory rulings from the Reagan FCC allowing him to expand his media empire, called Fowler "one of the great pioneers of the communications revolution" and "perhaps the most successful of any Reagan appointee."

Delivering the Final Blow

In 1986, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which had been packed by Reagan with right-wing ideologues, upheld a loose interpretation by the Reagan FCC of an aspect of the Fairness Doctrine ruling that Congress had never made the doctrine a binding requirement, despite statutory language suggesting that it had.9 The vote was 2-1, with Judges Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork in the majority. In 1987, the Reagan FCC, under the chairmanship of Dennis Patrick (a young Reagan aide who took office upon Mark Fowlers departure), used that decision, and a subsequent one from the same court, as an invitation to repeal the doctrine entirely.

THE REPUBLICAN NOISE MACHINE: Right-Wing Media and How it Corrupts Democracy by David Brock ,Crown Publishers, New York, 2004


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