Who should decide what you hear over the radio and on TV? You? Or policymakers in Washington?
If freedom of speech appeals to you – if you think we need robust debate to keep democracy alive and well – the answer should be clear.
Unfortunately, it's not so clear to certain liberal lawmakers.
That's why liberals are dusting off the so-called "Fairness Doctrine."
The Fairness Doctrine, despite its name, gives Americans a raw deal. The Federal Communications Commission created it in 1949 to require broadcasters to present both sides of any controversial issue that they touched on. Sounds … well, fair, right? Except for two major problems.
One is practical – it makes for boring radio and TV. Why? Because broadcasters responded to the Fairness Doctrine predictably: Realizing that it would be extraordinarily difficult to ensure that each issue was treated in perfect balance, they opted in large measure to steer clear of controversial topics. After all, there's only one way to guarantee that no one is offended by what you say – and that's to say nothing.
The other problem is a little something known as the First Amendment. Where, pray tell, is it written in the Constitution that we must exercise our free speech in a "balanced" way? Sorry, but the kind of robust debate our Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution – indeed, the kind of debate that led to the founding of this nation – can't be hemmed in with parliamentary demands that we carefully include "the other side" every time we speak. Like it or not, democracy's messy.
That's why Pence has introduced the "Broadcaster Freedom Act" – to ensure that no future president can regulate the airwaves of America without an act of Congress. "America is a nation of freedom and strong opinion," he says. "Our government must not be afraid to entrust our good people with all the facts and opinions necessary to make choices as an informed electorate. That is what democracy is all about."
It's not just Republicans who think so. As President John F. Kennedy once said, "We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."
So let's ask those who champion the Fairness Doctrine: What are you afraid of?
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