Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The "Fairness" Doctrine and Russian "Treason"

The Bench RSS Feed Free speech is under attack everywhere, all the time. Russian lawmakers and their like-minded kin, the Democrat Party in the US, are busy launching the latest salvos against free speech. In Russia, it's a new law dealing with "treason," which is reminiscent of the old days in the Soviet Union. In the US, a proposed revival of the old "Fairness Doctrine," a cynically named piece of legislation that is reminiscent of the old days in the Soviet Union. The Associated Press reports this morning: A new law drafted by [Russian] Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's Cabinet would allow authorities to label any government critic a traitor — a move that leading rights activists condemned Wednesday as a chilling reminder of the times under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin....The draft extends the definition of treason from breaching Russia's external security to damaging the nation's constitutional order, sovereignty or territorial integrity. That would essentially let authorities interpret any act against the interests of the state as treason — a crime prosecutable by up to 20 years in prison....But Putin's proposed bill broadens the term "treason" to include inaction as well as action, includes a breach to internal security and adds international organizations to foreign ones as those forbidden to receive state secrets....In a related move, the upper house of Russia's parliament passed a bill Wednesday that would end jury trials for those facing charges of terrorism and treason....The bill strips defendants charged with some crimes — involvement in illegal armed units, violent seizures of power, armed rebellion and mass riots — of the right to jury trials. Instead they would face judges. (The irony of AP reporting this is rich. For years, AP and other mainstream media outlets have gleefully reported classified information and leaked sensitive items, to the chagrin of the US government and to the glee of our enemies.) Meanwhile, in the US, Democrats in Congress are pushing their agenda for the suppression of free speech. The original Fairness Doctrine, as columnist Bruce Fein recently noted, "suppressed free speech over the airwaves [starting in] 1949 by penalizing the broadcast of controversial issues." In short, it required that a radio or television station which featured a guest who took a particular side of a particular issue had to give "equal time" to somebody with an opposing view. In other words, the Government was messing with the free speech of the show's host and producers, as well as that of the station's management and owners. The Fairness Doctrine, which was not really "fair" at all, was thrown out by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Syracuse Peace Council v. FCC (1989). Fein notes that "During the ensuing 19 years, not a crumb of evidence has surfaced suggesting that controversial subjects have been shortchanged in the broadcasting marketplace of ideas - the evil that the Fairness Doctrine purported to address." FEIN: Exhuming the fairness doctrine The old Fairness Doctrine did not apply to print media. Newspapers and magazines were still protected by the First Amendment and did not have to kow-tow to Government meddlers. Democrats now, however, want to return us to those days. As noted above by Fein, the old Fairness Doctrine did not improve the "marketplace of ideas." Print media, by and large, tends to be politically oriented either towards the middle (more or less) or outright liberal (in most cases of the big print media, such as the NY Times or Time Magazine). Since 1989, however, a phenomenon known as "talk radio" has exploded in popularity. To the dismay of Democrat leaders, the unfettered freedom of speech in the broadcast media has been dominated by conservative talk show hosts. Liberal shows and hosts have failed miserably. Remember the liberal "Air America?" So, to be "fair," the Democrats argue, we need to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine. Again, Fein: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, in the 111th Congress is planning to exhume and breathe new life into the doctrine by legislative fiat. She will encounter a friendly Democratic president supportive of her gambit. Her motivation is transparent. The Democratic Party intends to brandish the Fairness Doctrine to marginalize the influence of conservative talk show hosts by making expression of their controversial views cost-prohibitive. Rush Limbaugh is their poster child. Democrats hope to better the instruction of their predecessors in making broadcasters shy from all conservative political viewpoints. All in all, the attempt to bring back the Fairness Doctrine is a tacit admission by Democrats that they have lost the battle for the hearts and minds of millions of radio listeners nationwide. To "fix" this "problem," they will impose firm new rules on broadcasters that will "ensure" a "balanced" presentation of "facts." Lenin, Stalin, Putin, oh my. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. RELATED: Fairness Doctrine would kill talk radio - Abilene Reporter-News House minority leader calls on Obama to speak out against Fairness Doctrine - SmartBrief Democrat Says Fairness Doctrine Should Extend to Cable, Satellite TV - 'Mr. Accountability' - Human Events This Is Not the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ You’re Looking For - Liberals, too, should reject the Fairness Doctrine - Christian Science Monitor Letters: Let the market decide 'fairness' in broadcasting - Orange County Register Obama And The Fairness Doctrine - Forbes Don't Sweat the Fairness Doctrine?The Weekly Standard Chronicles of the Obamanation: If you can't beat 'em, shut them down - Truthbomber