Saturday, April 15, 2017

Remembering the Fairness Doctrine

Nothing goes wrong immediately when a policy changes. Even the worst policy changes don't take effect right away, as they roll out over days, months, and years.

The Fairness Doctrine was one policy that changed under Ronald Reagan. It used to require broadcast media to provide balance in their coverage of politics. Its loss took some time to metastasize, so much so that it escapes notice as a major cause of our current political divide.

Some people like to blame social media for the chasm, but as a recent study found, the less people use social media, the bigger the divide, so that's not it. Instead, it comes from listening to right-wing talk radio, watching Fox News, and the way they've driven crazy into the mainstream, to the point where Alex Jones and Breitbart start to seem reasonable.

All those radio stations and Fox are made possible by the death of the Fairness Doctrine.

It can't be changed back, especially when it comes to the interweb. Part of the legal basis for the Fairness Doctrine was that broadcast frequencies were a limited resource, owned by the public (in contrast with newspapers and, later, cable channels and the web).

But it's a useful example of how policy changes have huge effects. Remember it and be cautious about change, when you get a chance.

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