When Government Tries to Equalize Free Speech - We End Up With Zero Speech
|Behold: ‘Equal Time’|
Not at all surprisingly, two government speech regulations ended up doing exactly what the Constitution was written to prevent it doing. Behold the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-imposed Fairness Doctrine and Equal Time provision.
These inanities were inflicted on anyone who had a broadcast license on spectrum given to them by the government. (That’s over-the-air television and radio.) These regs left most such recipients regretting mightily not having just paid for the airwaves – so as to have gotten (at least a little) out from under government’s massive thumb.
These two First Amendment assaults were imposed in the name of government-defined-and-mandated speech “equality.” As usual, government fundamentally misrepresents its charter. It is required to ensure equality of opportunity – not empowered to impose equality of outcome. Anyone can say anything they want – that’s Constitutional opportunity. Anyone else receiving a government-mandated equal chance on the same platform – is unConstitutional free speech abridgment. How so? Here goes….
The Fairness Doctrine “was a policy…introduced in 1949 that required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was-in the Commission’s view-honest, equitable, and balanced.”
How’d that work in practice? So you’re a radio station owner. Your business model and imperative is to program your station – strategically planning each broadcast minute so as to maximize your audience. You of course want the most compelling people on the air.
How can you do this if every yahoo on the planet can – at any time at all – demand access to your airwaves? Yahoos who may not be…the most intriguing, articulate of individuals. And the rampant schedule volatility would render your business totally dysfunctional. You couldn’t program your station even five minutes in advance – as you would be suffering an insufferable parade of Fairness Doctrine-imposed yahoos lining up to access your microphone.
So in the name of equalized speech, the Fairness Doctrine resulted in – zero speech. Station owners would simply not inform their audiences about anything that might invoke the absurdity. How do we know the Fairness Doctrine did this? Because the Ronald Reagan Administration’s FCC voted to stop enforcing it, and months later Rush Limbaugh began his nationally syndicated radio rise – and the talk radio revolution. The results were so obvious – the Barack Obama Administration’s FCC officially removed the language that imposed the Doctrine. Not because they too thought it was awful policy – but because the politics of it were so against them.
Is this Administration finished with abridging free speech? Of course not.
The head of the Federal Communications Commission promised Thursday to enforce his agency’s regulations requiring television stations to give political candidates equal opportunities for airtime.
“The rules are pretty clear. Rules are rules,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told reporters Thursday. “I hope that we have developed a reputation as folks who enforce the rules.”
The equal-time rule was created because the FCC thought the stations could easily manipulate the outcome of elections by presenting just one point of view, and excluding other candidates.
Which brings us back to this latest imposition of Equal Time:
FCC Chairman Wheeler finally rid us of a Fairness Doctrine that was incredibly damaging to free speech and the marketplace. He should do the same to an Equal Time provision doing the exact same damage. Don’t enforce it – eradicate it.
Oh – and it is now abundantly clear that the FCC long ago ran out of lawful, helpful things to do. So when it is not enforcing ridiculous laws that shouldn’t exist, it is illegally making up regulations – so as to then enforce them. Idle bureaucrat hands.…
Congress should put the FCC out of all of our misery – and eradicate it.
Seton Motley is the President of Less Government and he contributes to ARRA News Service. Please feel free to follow him him on Twitter / Facebook.
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