Tag Archives: Donald Trump

What was The Fairness Doctrine?

After the January 6, 2021 siege on Capitol Hill, I began hearing people saying we need to bring back “The Fairness Doctrine,” as if that genie could be put back into the bottle.

But what exactly was “The Fairness Doctrine?”

It was a policy enacted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1949 requiring the holder of a broadcast license to both present controversial issues of public importance, and to present these issues in a manner that was honest, equitable, fair and balanced.

In other words, broadcasters were supposed to not only uncover what the people in their broadcast service area should be aware of, but also to present both sides of the issue.

Operate in the Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity

From the beginning of my broadcast management career, I knew that my number one job was to protect the radio station’s FCC broadcast license to operate. Without a broadcast license, you were out of business. Second, my radio station(s) must operate in the public interest, convenience and necessity of the people in the area we were licensed to serve with our broadcasts.

The FCC created The Fairness Doctrine to ensure that “all sides of important public questions were presented fairly.”

For decades, this doctrine was seen as the keystone of broadcasters fulfilling their commitment to operating in the public interest. Compliance with The Fairness Doctrine was a primary litmus test during the license renewal process.

It was during the 1960s, when I started my radio career, that the FCC increased their enforcement of broadcaster compliance to The Fairness Doctrine. In 1963, the FCC formally stated that the presentation of only one side of an issue during a sponsored program would require that opposing views be given free air time to present their side. That rule became known as the Cullman Doctrine.

Broadcaster’s Free Speech

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that all of this increased oversight by the FCC on a broadcast station’s program content was seen as interference with a broadcaster’s “free speech.”

This would eventually be challenged at the Supreme Court in the Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC decision of 1969, with the high court upholding the constitutionality of the public interest standard in general and The Fairness Doctrine in particular. In their decision, the court stated, “It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.”

The End of The Fairness Doctrine

In 1985, the FCC finally decided that The Fairness Doctrine was incompatible with the public interest. It would eliminate this rule in 1987, and in 2011, the FCC removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register.

“[T]he Federal Communications Commission should reestablish two principles that formerly served this country well: the public service requirement and the fairness doctrine. Every television and radio station should once again be required to devote a meaningful percentage of its programming to public service broadcasting. The public, after all, owns the airwaves through which signals are broadcast, and the rights-of-way in which cables are strung. And every television and radio station should once again have to follow the fairness doctrine: those with opposing views should have the right to respond to viewpoints expressed on the station.”
― 
Bernie Sanders, United States Senator

Trump Tweets NBC Broadcasts “Fake News”

In October of 2017, President Donald J. Trump tweeted “With all the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

Broadcast legal experts immediately criticized and dismissed Trump’s tweet as both implausible and having no legal basis.

The American Bar Association’s Legal Fact Check wrote:

“The FCC publishes specific rules and guidelines related to news hoaxes and distortions and bars a licensee from knowingly broadcasting false information concerning a crime or a catastrophe. But the bar or threshold is high. Six days after Trump’s tweet, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said his agency cannot revoke the license of a broadcaster ‘based on content of a particular newscast,’ and cited First Amendment protections of the press. FCC statements previously noted that the commission ‘often receives complaints … that stations have aired inaccurate or one-sided news reports or comments, covered stories inadequately or overly dramatized the events that they cover… (but) the commission generally will not intervene in such cases because it would be inconsistent with the First Amendment to replace the journalistic judgment of licensees with our own.’”

FOX NEWS CHANNEL

The Fairness Doctrine ended during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, however, it’s often wrongly stated that this gave birth to cable’s FOX NEWS CHANNEL. It did not. Cable channels are not, nor have they ever been, regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Similarly, the internet is also not regulated by the FCC.

The Fairness Doctrine only applied to the licenses of broadcast radio and television stations.

A case could be made that the end of The Fairness Doctrine did open the door to the Rush Limbaugh Show, which made its nationally syndicated premiere in 1988. Rush Limbaugh was a savior for AM radio stations, who saw most of their music audiences moving over to FM radio stations, and those advertising dollars moving right along with them.

Limbaugh proved so popular with AM talk radio audiences, that AM radio station owners added more talk shows like Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and others.

Cumulus Media

Following the siege on our nation’s Capitol in Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, Cumulus Media, the radio syndicator for the Mark Levin Show sent a memo to its talk show hosts to stop spreading rhetoric about a stolen election or face termination.

Brian Philips, executive vice president of content for Cumulus Media wrote in his memo:

“We need to help induce calm NOW (and) will not tolerate any suggestion that the election has not ended. The election has been resolved, there are no alternative acceptable ‘paths.’ If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately.”

Cumulus Media operates Westwood One, which syndicates Trump-supporting radio talk personalities like Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino.

Free Speech

I find it ironic that the people screaming the loudest about what Cumulus Media has done is to thwart free speech. It’s not “free speech” to tell lies. United States constitutional law does not always protect false statements under the First Amendment.

Moreover, these same people are usually the ones who say, “Let the market decide.” In other words, let the corporations and companies make those hard decisions.

In this case, Cumulus Media did just that.

iHeartMedia which syndicates Trump-supporter hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity has not publicly announced any similar action for these talk hosts as of the writing of this blog article.

In 2016, SiriusXM suspended conservative talk host Glenn Beck for agreeing with one of his show’s guests who asked, “what patriot will step up to remove Donald Trump from office if he’s elected president and oversteps his authority?” SiriusXM, operator of America’s two satellite radio services, suspended Beck because they worried the conversation might “be reasonably construed by some to have been advocating harm against an individual currently running for office.”

Michael Harrison, who publishes Talkers magazine was sympathetic to the Cumulus memo saying:

“Corporations are responsible for what’s on their air. They have to deal with client feedback. They have to deal with public image and protection of their license. Private corporations can control their platforms, and I believe that in and of itself is an expression of free speech in action.”

I’m all for the Fairness Doctrine, whatever that is.

-George Voinovich*

*George Victor Voinovich (July 15, 1936 – June 12, 2016) was an American politician who served as a United States senator from Ohio from 1999 to 2011, the 65th governor of Ohio from 1991 to 1998 and the 54th mayor of Cleveland from 1980 to 1989, the last Republican to serve in that office.

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The Magic Hat

67aI’m not going to get into the weeds about the presidential election. But I do want to weigh in about marketing and promotion.

I read that Donald Trump spent more on those “Make America Great Again” red ball caps than he did on any other part of his campaign. I also know that in the fly-over states his lawn signs were also prolific.

I bring this up because I remember when radio stations promoted themselves prolifically as well.

Do you?

It’s About Touching People Emotionally, Stupid

Roy H. Williams taught me long ago in writing persuasive radio commericials that if you win a person’s heart, their mind and pocketbook will follow. People first are hooked by their emotions and then justify their actions logically.

Go Team Go

Pick any sports team, in any sport, and you will see team fans proudly wearing their favorite team’s hats, shirts, colors.

Colleges also understand the importance of school spirit through the display of all kinds of wearables.

Bumper Stickers

Radio used to own the bumper sticker market. One radio station I especially remember was WOBM in Toms River, New Jersey. 67 This simple white on blue bumper sticker was seen on virtually every car at the Jersey Shore when I moved to Atlantic City in 1984.

But many of these station branded items seem to have been eliminated as budget cuts forced a leaner, meaner operating style.

Ratings vs. Station Wear

These days one of a radio station’s biggest expenses is audience ratings. The expense line for station branded items I’m sure pales by comparison.

The Federal Election Commission filings show that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign spent around $1.8 million on polling from June 2015 through September 2016, but spent $3.2 million on hats. Polling like audience ratings don’t touch anyone on an emotional level (except maybe the manager when the bill comes due).

Is there a lesson for radio here?

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Informed or Just Amused?

61This is not a blog about politics. It’s a blog to mentor people about media.

One of the courses I teach at the university is about the processes and effects of mediated communication. I feel this is an important course for students who will become future radio and television journalists. Journalism is a critical component of our democracy.

Thomas Jefferson on Newspapers

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.”

Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and our third President felt that newspapers were that important to our democracy.

Warning: Long-term TV Exposure Could Be Hazardous to Your Reality

Researchers Morgan, Shanahan, Signorielli said their research found that long-term exposure to television tends to cultivate the image of a relatively mean and dangerous world. This area of media research is called “Cultivation.”

People have long feared powerful and harmful media effects, especially on children.

National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence

The 1960s were tumultuous times. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. His accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was killed on live TV by Jack Ruby. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis on the balcony of his hotel and Bobby Kennedy, President’s Kennedy’s brother, was assassinated at a political rally in California. This is why President Lyndon Johnson formed the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence to conduct the first study on the effects of mediated violence on TV.

Cultivation Effect

George Gerbner, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and later Temple University, developed his “cultivation theory” to explain the effects television was having on heavy viewers. His theory says that people who watch a lot of TV tend to develop or cultivate views of the world similar to what they see on television, generally a “mean” world filled with crime and violence.

TV Violence

In a given week of TV, more than half of all leading characters on television are involved in some kind of violent act. Heavy viewers see more than 50% of the stars in their favorite shows engaged in some kind of violent activity. But what’s the reality?

Violent crime in America is at 30-year lows. However Americans’ concern for violent crime is at a 15-year high. In fact 7 out 10 Americans said crime was rising in America. Gun sales have surged 40% this year and are on track for another record breaking year.

Can you see how television is cultivating its viewers and skewing their reality of the world around them?

Social Construction of Reality

Research shows that heavy viewers of television tend to cultivate the same distorted view of the real world as the one they see on TV. They over-estimate the amount of crime on their streets, become more fearful and seek out ways to protect themselves from this perceived violence. Resonance with TV’s dramatic stories occurs when real world events occur that reinforce the fictional world of television.

Reality TV

Network television’s corporate leaders are always striving to produce programs that will garner the most eyeballs watching them for the least amount of money to produce them. Why not, its good business and stakeholders reward a great financial performance by TV executives.

Reality TV shows were a dream come true. Production costs were low and audience viewing levels were high. The only real problem with reality television is it’s not reality; it’s faux reality.

Reality TV Stars

This new form of prime time programming would produce new stars. Jersey Shore produced Snooki to the world. Seaside Heights might compare that televised devastation to Hurricane Sandy in terms of the damage caused to this wonderful ocean resort community.

The Apprentice would produce a New York billionaire as its star.

Donald Trump

Between the original Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, Donald Trump would command prime time television on NBC for 14 seasons. For some voters in this 2016 Presidential election, that’s almost their entire life. For heavy TV viewers, their reality of Trump has been formed from this television program. Their social construction of reality of Trump has been formed by up to 14 years of faux reality.

24-Hour News vs. ESPN

The advent of 24-hour news channels created an insatiable appetite for content. To keep viewers tuned in, the once rarely seen “Breaking News” slide now is exploding on people’s HDTV screens out of every commercial break.

The coverage of politics is almost indistinguishable from the way ESPN covers sports. Many of the descriptors used come directly from the lingo of play-by-play announcers.

TV The Great Storyteller

Television is the great storyteller of our time. Much in the way researchers have measured the impact TV has had on people’s view of crime versus reality, should we now be concerned about people’s view of our politics in much the same way?

Talk Radio

Radio also has a toe in these waters. Talk radio, after the repeal of The Fairness Doctrine, took off. Rush Limbaugh was the first – and still reported to be the biggest – benefactor of this new kind of talk radio.

Radio operators, like television operators, also look for programming that will produce the largest audience for the least amount of dollars to produce. Talk radio was incredibly successful for accomplishing this.

Social Media

The last election showed the power of social media in terms of influencing voter opinion during the Presidential election in 2012. This election cycle appears to be reaching a new apex for social media’s influence.

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Professor Neil Postman’s book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” was published in 1985. Postman passed away in October 2003. His book looked at whether the future would be more like George Orwell had predicted in “1984” or more like Aldous Huxley predicted in his book “Brave New World.”

Orwell predicted that a “big brother” government would control the world and Huxley felt that entertainment would totally distract us from what was really going on with our world.

This book is as relevant today as when it was published, maybe even more so, as many of the predictions made are now on internet steroids.

Television and social media have replaced the written word. Mass media continues to move in the direction of entertainment which challenges it to share serious ideas. One candidate’s coughing fit obscures serious talking points delivered later to an audience in the room but not to the audience on television. Another candidate captures TV coverage by early morning “tweet storms.” The casualty is serious issues get no air time, complex issues are bumped for superficial ones. News we need to know is replaced by news that entertains.

ABC – NBC – CBS

For the past seven years, my students have done a comparative analysis of the three major evening newscasts to study their “agenda setting” for America’s news viewers. The general conclusion by my students is that none of them give you everything you need to know to be an informed citizen in a democracy.

What I’ve witnessed over the time I’ve been doing this exercise with my students is how totally entertainment oriented all three of them have become.

Saturday Night Live

The new season of SNL opened on Saturday, October 1, 2016. Alec Baldwin was cast in the role of Donald Trump and Kate McKinnon was cast in the role of Hillary Clinton. Based on the reviews of what every news channel was calling “Must See TV” McKinnon won the night by putting Ms. Clinton in a positive light and Baldwin turned Mr. Trump into a pathetic caricature of “@realDonaldTrump”.

McKinnon’s line probably said it best; when as Ms. Clinton she said “I think I’m going to be President.”

If what researchers have learned about television and the study of its influence on people’s perception of violence carries over to people’s candidate voting preferences, then SNL may have just influenced the outcome of the 2016 United States Presidential election.

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