The ultra-right leadership of the House of Representatives has decisively moved to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, public radio and public television. They argue that “conservative taxpayers” should not have to “subsidize liberal media.”
These ultra-rightists leave out the fact that taxpayers who are not pro-corporate conservatives massively subsidize Fox News and right-wing talk radio, both of which are basically lobbying firms broadcasting corporate political ads disguised as news and “guy on the street” opinions.
In 1987 the Reagan administration abolished the Federal Communications Commission’s Fairness Doctrine, opening the door to the brazen corporate political advertising we now refer to as Fox News. The Fairness Doctrine required holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance and to do it an honest, equitable and balanced way.
The Reagan administration’s action gutted the fundamental premise of the 1949 FCC report that established the doctrine. This premise was that the electronic airways are a publicly owned resource and, as the Supreme Court said in upholding the doctrine in 1969, radio and TV station owners are “public trustees” obligated to air honest, equitable presentations of opposing views. No wonder that the Wall Street Journal has editorialized against the Fairness Doctrine.
By abolishing the Fairness Doctrine the Reagan administration established a different broadcast doctrine: media companies “own” the airwaves that used to belong to the public, and these companies thus have the right to broadcast political advertising and call it news with no obligation to truth or objectivity.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. recently reported, in an article on Reader Supported News, that Fox News abandoned efforts to establish a Canadian Fox News because Canada still has a Fairness Doctrine that makes it illegal to knowingly broadcast lies. The right-wing Canadian Prime Minister tried to abolish this rule but Canadian lawmakers said no. Fox News threw in the towel.
We, the American working-family majority, have been forced to hand over ownership of the airwaves for a pittance to corporate media hacks who can then broadcast falsehoods to gain political and economic advantage over us, the very same folks they hijacked the airways from.
Right-wing commentators’ answer to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is: get with market-oriented programming, win a bigger audience and advertisers, get off the public “dole.” But the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 defines the most important purposes of public broadcasting to be “instructional, educational and cultural,” not market-driven broadcasting.
To see the difference, let’s look at one aspect of public broadcasting’s content. One rule of the market is “please the customers and advertisers.” Science education requires pursuit of the truth based on fact not popularity. Real science education can be fun, but it cannot be based on current market popularity. It must be based on deriving the truth from studying reality in all human arenas. Must public television’s “NOVA” stop broadcasting the massive evidence for evolution in markets where it’s not popular? Must NPR’s “Science Friday” stop discussing global warming facts because some listeners or advertisers might be offended?
Imagine if in 1987 the Reagan administration had said to the American people, “Hey, let’s turn over the public airwaves to a few media giants, and we are going let them have the airwaves for a song, and we are going to let them lie in their self-interest with impunity, and they will make billions and use your airwaves to destroy your economic well-being – what do you say folks?” We might have reacted more forcefully to the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. (Hey, wait a second, maybe somebody on one of those crazy educational channels said exactly that, but who was listening?)