How Administrations Seek To Control Local and National News
Riverside, CT (PRWEB) June 04, 2012
Corydon B. Dunham is a firm believer in the value – and necessity – of a free press. During his years as a broadcast executive, Dunham saw how the Fairness Doctrine policy of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) caused it routinely to compromise that freedom. In his new book “Government Control of News: A Constitutional Challenge” (published by iUniverse), Dunham says “The history of the Fairness Doctrine shows that fairness was the label but the objective was government control and in practice it was used that way by the government and others.”
The FCC threatened broadcasters with the loss of their broadcast licenses for failure to comply with a majority vote of the commissioners on fairness, balance and diversity when reporting the news. After a review, the FCC itself concluded that the Fairness Doctrine suppressed news, chilled speech and provided “a dangerous vehicle ...for the intimidation of broadcasters who criticize government policy.” The FCC concluded it had created an atmosphere of “timidity and fear” and revoked the doctrine in 1987.
The FCC now proposes to resurrect and expand that policy with its new Localism, Balance and Diversity Doctrine. It would have much the same results as the old Fairness Doctrine, causing broadcasters to avoid controversial issues in news coverage that might prompt a complaint and more litigation costs than the station could handle as well as intimidating station management. A local control board would also be appointed at each station to monitor the news and recommend the loss of broadcast license for station failure to comply fully with the new FCC policy, again deterring news coverage important for the public. Local control board members also could easily prevent the airing of views they disagreed with or thought inappropriate.
“Government Control of News” is Dunham’s revealing examination of government policies regulating the content of broadcast news and why the government should be prevented from interfering with the free flow of information. As he shows, the teaching of the First Amendment of the Constitution has historically been that the government shall not interfere with news reports. The present Chief of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, however, has long urged that this Constitutional tradition be overturned and “a New Deal approach” be used so an incumbent government could directly manage broadcast news to achieve its social and political objectives. A recent FCC staff study of the Localism Doctrine proceeding recommended it be terminated as burdensome and not in the public interest. But the FCC chairman refused to dismiss it and it continues.
Dunham is especially concerned with “…new FCC commissioners who were not present for the Fairness Doctrine to learn of the harm it did and, as the FCC found, of the atmosphere of “timidity and fear” in the broadcast industry it caused. Would the Commission accept the intimidation of broadcasters who “criticized governmental policy?” Dunham says “the point is that television news content should be protected from government control, distortion and suppression and Congress should act to stop the FCC’s incursion into the flow of information needed by the public for self-governance.”
About the Author
Corydon B. Dunham enjoyed a lengthy career working on television free press issues as a First Amendment lawyer and executive vice president for a television network in charge of its legal matters, relations with the government and network broadcast standards.
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