In a shameless example of fear-mongering, some Republicans—including Robert McDowell, a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—have been trying to create a tenuous, fictional link between net neutrality and the fairness doctrine. In reality, the two are essentially polar opposites. Net neutrality is the doctrine that nobody—not the government, and not Internet providers—has a right to control how businesses and individuals choose to use the Internet. The fairness doctrine was an unconstitutional requirement withdrawn by the FCC decades ago that media outlets using the broadcast spectrum (i.e., television and radio) grant ‘equal time’ to all sides of issues of public import.
That sounds good, and I’m a big fan of presenting all sides of an issue, but members of the media (whether print, television, radio, or Internet) have a right to publish whatever they want however they want. If the New York Times wants to be wacky left-wing, they can. If Fox News Channel wants to be right-wing, they can. You can read or watch whatever you want, and you can switch to a competitor if you don’t like the ‘slant’ of a particular media source. It’s not the government’s place to require any media outlet to add or remove any content—especially political content—from their programming.
I’m surprised to see guys like McDowell going to these desperate lengths to defend an indefensible position that companies should be able to turn the Web into a giant toll-road for the benefit of phone and cable companies, but linking with the fairness doctrine—a concept that most thinking people revile—seems fairly shrewd. Except it’s not.
It turns out that the fairness doctrine, despite its historic chilling effect on the political media and unquestionable unconstitutionality, is surprisingly well liked. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 47 percent of Americans want to see this onerous requirement re-applied to radio and television. Only 39 percent oppose it. Thankfully a smaller number want to see this doctrine applied to the Internet . . . but an incredible 31 percent of Americans think that my blog should have to dedicate equal time to all sides of an issue. In other words, if I write 389 words against the fairness doctrine, I would have to write 389 words in favor (or publish somebody else’s 389 words in support). Ludicrous.
So it’s definitely right to oppose the fairness doctrine, but trying to link it with net neutrality is nothing but baseless fear-mongering.
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