WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Should We Bring Back the Fairness Doctrine?

May 8, 2018

An opinion piece in the Boston Globe suggested the U.S. should reinstate the Fairness Doctrine if we want to stop the spread of fake news.  The piece is written by Steve Almond, who is author of the new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country."

As Almond points out in the opinion piece, the Fairness Doctrine was created to ensure the public’s airwaves were used for the public good and that broadcasters provided a reasonable opportunity for differing viewpoints to be heard on issues.

Shop Talk panelist Will Buss said journalists work to be fair with their reporting and present all the facts, but the issue of fairness becomes complicated when talk shows get tossed into the mix.  He said many talk shows and some entire cable TV networks make no effort to present balanced programming.

Panelist Jasmine Crighton said she worked for TV news directors who ran their shops as though the Fairness Doctrine was still in place.  But their way of thinking disappeared as those news directors left and were replaced by bosses who were less interested in sticking with the doctrine’s principles.

Crighton feels the Fairness Doctrine was effective in preventing broadcast stations from skewing too far to the left or right.  

She also said opponents of the doctrine contended it infringes on the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech.

Panelist Rich Egger said too many people treat the First Amendment and other amendments as if they are carved in stone.  He said there are already exceptions to the First Amendment -- for example, libel and slander are not protected forms of free speech. So he thinks it is not restrictive to expect news outlets to strive for fairness.

Jasmine Crighton is News Director of NEWS3 at Western Illinois University and Will Buss is the Director of Student Publications at WIU.