Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal


In 1987, the FCC repealed broadcasting's Fairness Doctrine. This longestablished Doctrine required broadcasters to adequately cover issues of public importance and to provide a balanced presentation of controversial viewpoints. Opponents of the Fairness Doctrine would make broadcasting fungible, in a first amendment sense, with the print media. But what distinguishes broadcasting from the print media is not the Fairness Doctrine, but licensing in the public interest. This Commentary contends that there is an inherent bedrock fairness principle rooted in the public interest standard of the Federal Communications Act of 1934. The public interest standard is an independent source for the obligation of broadcasters to provide vigorous debate on controversial public issues. Although broadcasters continue to serve, in theory, as licensees operating in the public interest, the FCC denies the existence of the bedrock content of that standard. The result is the present anomaly-licensing without obligation. In short, the present system of broadcast regulation makes no sense in the absence of an enforceable fairness principle.