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Posted 1:00 AM Eastern

by Jim Kouri
August 8, 2007
© 2006

Few political issues have had more impact on citizen involvement in the legislative process than immigration.

If anything, it has become the defining political issue for millions upon millions of Americans. And the communications vehicle used by conservatives to voice their opposition to amnesty programs and other "goodies" for illegal alien lawbreakers is radio.

In a recent Zogby Poll, a majority of Americans said they oppose amnesty for undocumented workers from other nations who are already residing in this nation, the survey shows. While 52% said there should be no amnesty, 32% said they would favor amnesty for such people.

As Congress now works on immigration reform legislation in Washington, the survey shows there is a significant partisan divide on this question. Among Democrats nationwide, 51% favor amnesty, while 29% oppose it and another 20% said they are unsure. Among Republicans, just 13% said they favor amnesty, while 76% said they oppose such an offer.

Each day, conservative talk shows provide audiences with a forum with which they can voice opposition to US politicians who are trading US sovereignty for campaign contributions and votes.

So, are our political leaders heeding the will of the American people regarding illegal immigration? No. Instead US lawmakers are attempting to revive a bit of censorship known as "The Fairness Doctrine." Taking the lead in pushing a return to censorship is Democrat presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

The policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission that became known as the "Fairness Doctrine" was an attempt to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair. FCC officials believed that station licensees were "public trustees," and as such had an obligation to afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance.

"Unfortunately, the application of the [Fairness] doctrine did not appear to have any impact on the steady diet of left-wing propaganda fed to Americans daily," stated conservative political strategist Mike Baker.

"One of the authors of the new Fairness Doctrine has gone as far as claiming Dan Rather is not a liberal nor are the newsrooms at the so-called 'Big Three' television networks bastions of liberalism," adds Baker.

When the fairness doctrine was first conceived, only 2,881 radio and 98 television stations existed. By 1960, there were 4,309 radio and 569 television stations. By 1989, these numbers grew to over 10,000 radio stations and close to 1,400 television stations. Likewise, the number of radios in use jumped from 85.2 million in 1950 to 527.4 million by 1988, and televisions in use went from 4 million to 175.5 million during that period. ("The Fairness Doctrine," National Association of Broadcasters, Backgrounder [1989].)

This doctrine grew out of concern that because of the large number of applications for radio station being submitted and the limited number of frequencies available, broadcasters should make sure they did not use their stations simply as advocates with a singular perspective. Rather, they must allow all points of view. That requirement was to be enforced by FCC mandate.

During the Reagan presidency, the FCC did away with their fairness doctrine as part of Reagan's vow to curb government intrusion.

"President Reagan saw the danger of having government controlling news coverage and radio shows," said former WMCA, New York, talk show host Steve Rogers.

A New Jersey police officer turned talk show host, Rogers saw up-close-and-personal the attempts by liberals, leftists and even some so-called conservatives to silence people with whom they did not agree.

"Politicians -- on the left or the right -- don't want citizens looking over their shoulders. Especially when those citizens have access to talk radio and the Internet," warns Rogers, a former detective lieutenant.

From the early 1940s, the FCC had established the "Mayflower Doctrine," which prohibited editorializing by stations. But that absolute ban softened somewhat by the end of the decade, allowing editorializing only if other points of view were aired, balancing that of the station's. During these years, the FCC had established dicta and case law guiding the operation of the doctrine.

In ensuing years the FCC ensured that the doctrine was operational by laying out rules defining such matters as personal attack and political editorializing (1967). In 1971 the Commission set requirements for the stations to report, with their license renewal, efforts to seek out and address issues of concern to the community. This process became known as "Ascertainment of Community Needs," and was to be done systematically and by the station management.

The FCC fairness policy was boosted by the left-leaning 1969 US Supreme Court case of Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. FCC. In that court case, a station in Pennsylvania had aired a "Christian Crusade" program wherein an author, Fred J. Cook, was attacked.

When Cook requested time to reply in keeping with the fairness doctrine, the station refused. Upon appeal to the FCC, the Commission declared that there was personal attack and the station had failed to meet its obligation. The station appealed and the case wended its way through the courts and eventually to the Supreme Court. The court ruled for the FCC, giving sanction to the fairness doctrine.

The doctrine, nevertheless, disturbed many journalists at the time, who considered it a violation of free speech and free press rights which should allow reporters to make their own decisions about balancing stories.

"Fairness, in this view, should not be forced by the FCC. In order to avoid the requirement to go out and find contrasting viewpoints on every issue raised in a story, some journalists simply avoided any coverage of some controversial issues. This "chilling effect" was just the opposite of what the FCC intended," said Mike Baker.

"When I first began hosting a talk show in 1983, we had to deal with the so-called Fairness Doctrine," said talk show host and program director Doug Kellett.

"It was the best way to stop any real opinion on the show. The rule demanded that any one called out on the air had to be contacted within a short period of time and given a chance to respond. Think about that issue with people calling in. Not just the host. The loads of paperwork was burdensome and it really stopped stations from wanting to have any kind of opinion show," said Kellett, who's worked at major-market radio stations throughout the nation.

By the 1980s, many things had changed. The "scarcity" argument which dictated the "public trustee" philosophy of the Commission, was disappearing with the abundant number of channels available on cable TV. Without scarcity, or with many other voices in the marketplace of ideas, there were perhaps fewer compelling reasons to keep the fairness doctrine, according to the Heritage Foundation.

This was also the era of deregulation when the FCC took on a different attitude about its many rules, seen as an unnecessary burden by most stations. The new Chairman of the FCC, Mark Fowler, appointed by President Reagan, publicly vowed to kill the fairness doctrine.

By 1985, the FCC issued its Fairness Report, asserting that the doctrine was no longer having its intended effect, might actually have a "chilling effect" and might be in violation of the First Amendment. In a 1987 case, Meredith Corp. v. FCC, the courts declared that the doctrine was not mandated by Congress and the FCC did not have to continue to enforce it. The FCC dissolved the doctrine in August 1987.

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But now there is a renewed interest on the part of the powerful to stifle the flow of information. Attempts to create left-wing radio networks and stations have failed miserably. And even some so-called conservatives are siding with leftists in an attempt to control talk show content.

"The latest failure was Air America. The only stations that have been able to survive poor ratings are those that are part of National Public Radio -- which, by the way, Rep. Dennis Kucinich claims with a straight face isn't liberal," said Steve Rogers.

"Once the camel's nose is in the tent, it only goes forward, not backward," added Devvy.

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But now there is a renewed interest on the part of the powerful to stifle the flow of information. Attempts to create left-wing radio networks and stations have failed miserably. And even some so-called conservatives are siding with leftists in an attempt to control talk show content.