• Sona Chaturvedi

Revive the Fairness Doctrine


Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Walter Cronkite used to be the most trusted man in America.

With the exception of a few news icons, Americans can no longer rely on that dependable and highly credible voice. This is due to several factors, such as 24-hour cable news channels and social media.

Perhaps even more important, we used to have a public policy called the Fairness Doctrine. The concept is simple enough. It requires television and radio broadcasters to present opposing viewpoints to ensure Americans understand the facts surrounding public or political issues and can make informed decisions.

But the Fairness Doctrine ended during the Reagan administration thanks to a court ruling, and the result has been irreparable damage to journalism and the American standard of truth-in-reporting, opening the door to propaganda masquerading as news. There is no such thing as “alternative facts,” and the right-wing media is in a race to the bottom, bringing American democracy down with them.

Thanks to the looser restrictions, companies like conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group have been welcomed into the media world. Now, it owns nearly 300 television stations across the U.S. At the local level, Sinclair is trying to corner the market with its version of “facts” under the guise of “local” news and public interest stories.

To add to its long list of priorities, the Biden administration must address this with haste. It’s crucial his presidency is accurately covered without bias. Thus, the Fairness Doctrine needs to be reinstated for the sake of global democracy and revised to include cable news.

The American public has been led down a path where nothing appears balanced. There used to be independent source verifications, which responsible newsrooms across America still do. But not every editor and producer is responsible, and these standards are non-existent in certain places. In way too many instances, sorting facts from fiction is solely in the hands of consumers of information.

Right-wing outlets often reiterate the same questionable information as news every night across all their conservative platforms. They often don’t cite reliable sources. Fox News, for example, bills itself as only an entertainment network.

Think about that. The White House does not include the likes of TMZ to press briefings. Why should Fox News be allowed in or have White House credentials? This had a massive impact during the presidential race, and the constant repetition of blatant untruths helped lead to the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“During the campaign, Fox wallowed in Trump's lies and misinformation about the contest possibly being 'rigged,' and that 'corrupt Democrats' would try to 'steal' the contest," said Eric Boehlert of PRESS RUN. After having been ginned up on lies for weeks, the viewers were not willing or ready to accept the truth. They vehemently protested the network, leading Fox News to purge the producers who encouraged correctly stating the results. Traditional TV, radio and cable media are not alone. Social-media companies must also be included in a revised version of the rule. Kara Swisher of the Pivot podcast, for example, has railed against the disinformation that has proliferated on social media and is actively promoting the need to regulate its content. She argues social media is responsible for what is reported on their platforms and should be forced to confirm reliable information. In Finland, an entire initiative has been launched to educate the public about media literacy. Specifically: “Facebook, Twitter, Google/YouTube, who are enablers of Russian trolls, should be regulated,” said Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro, who has been investigating Russian media manipulation long before it was linked to the 2016 U.S. elections.

Free, honest and fair journalism are the essence of a functioning democracy. There are many hard-working, honest journalists who aren’t on TV every night trying to delude viewers and turn themselves into the story. Print media has taken a hit in circulation. These journalists, both locally and nationally, report stories of value. Even when the news isn't sensational, journalism is vital. That is especially the case for local newspapers, which foster a sense of community.

This is, of course, an uphill battle given the conservative nature of the Supreme Court, but it is one worth fighting for. Independent news and verified facts should not be a thing of the past.

It should be our future.