Conservatives Angry at Liberal Internet Bias: Time To Bring Back the Fairness Doctrine?

Conservatives Angry at Liberal Internet Bias: Time To Bring Back the Fairness Doctrine?


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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Donald Trump and other Republicans have been complaining for some time about a supposed liberal bias wired into the systems behind the Internet.

They complain of bias in how Google returns liberal versus conservative search results. And they criticize how social media treat conservatives.

Tech executives deny their software and algorithms handicap conservative content, although they are under no legal obligation to do so.

Even if online systems were to treat conservative content differently, there would be nothing inherently wrong or illegal if they did.

There is no federal law, or any regulations, which compel any media companies to treat left and right equally.

Ironic, because there used to be, and that policy–known as the Fairness Doctrine–was knocked down by conservatives under President Ronald Reagan.

Put in place by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1949, it told broadcasters to present controversial subjects in an honest, balanced and equitable way.

However, an FCC stacked with a conservative majority appointed by Reagan chose to eliminate the policy in 1987.

Knocking down the Fairness Doctrine paved the way the rise of Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the right-wing chatter on talk radio.

The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine undoubtedly also led to the creation of a Republican-centric Fox News. The Fairness Doctrine only ever directly applied to over-the-air broadcasters. But that’s only because cable TV hadn’t yet matured by the time the policy was killed–and of course, the commercial Internet hadn’t even come into being yet.

If, instead of being repealed, the Fairness Doctrine had continued to be supported by the FCC and Congress it is likely that it would have been updated, from time to time, to cover additional new technologies beyond broadcast.

If Republicans were sincere about their complaints about bias on the Internet, they would dust off the Fairness Doctrine, and work with Democrats to update it for modern technology and reinstitute it.

Given that would probably mean the end of Fox News as we know it, Republicans probably will just continue complaining and screeching about “fake news.”

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