While the “Fairness Doctrine” was found unenforceable and likely unconstitutional by the FCC back in 1987, the actual code has remained on the books. That will change, however, as FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says that he plans to finally delete the policy from the Code of Federal Regulations.
B&C’s John Eggerton explains:
“I fully support deleting the Fairness Doctrine and related provisions form the Code of Federal Regulations,” he wrote in a letter dated June 6 (a copy of which was obtained by B&C), ” so that there can be no mistake that what has been a dead letter is truly dead.” He said that his staff was currently reviewing its regs, which has focused to date on rules still actively governing licensees, but that he expected they would recommend the deletion of the fairness doctrine and related corollaries, which provided for free response time for personal attacks and equal time for other candidates if a station endorsed a candidate in an editorial. The corollaries were repealed by the FCC in 2000.
“I look forward to effectuating this change when acting on the staff’s recommendations and anticipate that the process can be completed in the near future,” he wrote. He reiterated that he felt the doctrine had the potential to chill speech and should have been abandoned when it was more than two decades ago.
The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in 1949, and sought to require broadcasters to present multiple sides of controversial issues in a way that was “honest, equitable and balanced.
It quickly proved unenforceable, however, as what was “balanced” and “equitable” was up for debate. It also had a clear effect on chilling free speech. The policy was abandoned by the FCC in 1987, though by keeping it on the books some future administration could theoretically attempt to enforce it. Once it is deleted by the FCC, the prospects of it ever returning get much slimmer.