The Fairness Doctrine

by | Jun 5, 2009

The Fairness Doctrine is not a doctrine that supports freedom or individual rights or free enterprise. The only way to deal fairly with it is to prevent its reinstatement and to repeal it entirely.

Indiana Representative Mike Pence introduced a bill “to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from re-promulgating the Fairness Doctrine.” In support of Mr. Pence’s bill I encourage a YES vote to prevent re-instatement of the Fairness Doctrine. Access H.R. 226 at

The government uses the word “fairness” to mean “equal”—as in “equal treatment.” However, since the Fairness Doctrine commands who shall have access to a station owner’s property, it violates the station owner’s property rights. Forcing the owner to broadcast a view with which he disagrees nullifies the station owner’s views, violating his freedom of speech.

That’s not equal treatment.

The Fairness Doctrine rests on two basic premises. The first premise is that the government owns the airwaves. But property is the result of effort exerted by an individual to discover, use and maintain a particular thing. John Locke showed the validity of this argument in Two Treatises on Government when he identified how property comes to be property.

The government did not discover the airwaves nor how to use them. It did not invent or build the equipment necessary to use them. It does not spend thought, time, and money hiring the personnel and maintaining the equipment necessary to broadcast. It has merely arbitrarily asserted it owns the airwaves.

The second premise is that you must sacrifice your interests to those of others. Why? Because “you are your brother’s keeper”—the “you” being anyone who produces. And the more you produce, the more you “owe” to society. This is “giving back,” the neo-collectivist slogan for “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”

No one can be expected to live his life for someone else. It’s immoral to ask it. It’s impossible to practice. You cannot digest another’s food. You cannot take on another’s disease. You cannot think another’s thoughts. And why should you try? There’s no virtue in it. And certainly no profit.

The Fairness Doctrine is a government edict that violates individual rights by forcing a man to provide venues through which others may express their opinions. Why? Those who don’t share the station owner’s views have the right to turn off his broadcast, build their own station, or express their views in a different forum by writing letters or making speeches, etc. But for government to force a man to betray his views for the sake of another’s is tantamount to thought control.

If a station owner broadcasts messages that support Candidate X, it is not just that he be forced to support Candidate Y. If Candidate Y contracts with the station owner to run an ad, that’s between them. But for the government to force the station owner to support a candidate he does not support—well, what would you call it? A form of censorship?

If a station owner broadcasts messages that support The Fairness Doctrine, would the government insist that the owner also air messages against The Fairness Doctrine? You can bet it would not, which indicates the root of what the Fairness Doctrine is all about: a device to push programs that the government favors.

The Fairness Doctrine places government dictates above station owners’ rights, above your rights, and the rights of all American citizens—whether you own radio and/or TV station or not—because it makes government the “ruler” not the servant of the people, which reverses the central intent of our Constitution. The government has no “duty” to force any views on anyone. It has only one job: to protect individual rights.

Those who argue that the Fairness Doctrine is in “the public interest” embrace two mistaken assumptions. The first assumption is that there’s such a thing as “the public interest,” as if 300 million Americans shared one point of view and one action alone would benefit everyone. The destructive consequences of Prohibition were one of the most graphically destructive examples of how false that notion is. The Hays Office was another.

The second assumption is that the government unerringly knows what is in the public’s best interest. But only the individual can judge his own best interest. Government bureaucrats can only say what they’re interested in.

The Fairness Doctrine is not a doctrine that supports freedom or individual rights or free enterprise. The only way to deal fairly with it is to prevent its reinstatement and to repeal it entirely.

Sylvia Bokor is an artist and writer. You can read more of her writings on her blog.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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