Tag Archives: public interest convenience and necessity

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.

19 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Radio Enlightenment

71huUtNKw3LIt started by seeing a movie called “Peaceful Warrior.” That led to reading a book by the subject of the movie, Dan Millman titled “Everyday Enlightenment.” It made me ponder if the radio industry might benefit from some of the book’s gateways to personal growth. Let me give it a try. Let me know if any of these things resonate with you.

Discover Radio’s Worth

Running a radio station is about choices. Lots and lots of choices. They include our beliefs, support systems, motivation, relationships, luck and/or karma.

Radio operators that do things that are worthy, have a radio station with a good sense of self-worth. “The moment we recognize the degree to which our difficulties are self-imposed, we begin to heal them,” says Millman.

Reclaim Radio’s Will

The radio industry’s great challenge in a 21st Century world is turning what we know into what we will do. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but radio’s future depends upon three little words, made famous by Nike, “Just Do It.”

Radio’s “will” might be better labeled radio’s “purpose.” It’s mission.

Once defined by the radio regulators, in a more deregulated world, it is now up to radio operators to clearly define it for their stations.

I remember a Clear Channel managers webinar that was all about focus. Slide after slide after slide introduced more and more things the company wanted its managers to focus on. You can imagine how CC’s senior managers felt when the webinar concluded, and then what didn’t happen.

Find your radio station’s focus. Agree on your property’s priorities, make sure everyone at the station is on the same page and then handle them one at a time.

The Flow of Money

“Self-worth tends to improve with net worth,” says Dan Millman. The biggest radio companies today haven’t led the way in managing their money.

“There’s a certain Buddhistic calm

That comes from having…money in the bank”

-Tom Robbins

Before an advertiser asks “How much do your charge for your spots?” your radio station needs to have first addressed “How much is our time, our services, and our talent worth?” Your answer needs to be honest and realistic and reflect the realities of the marketplace. Then always deliver your client more than their money’s worth. Don’t discount your product, give more service to your advertisers.

“The great decisions of human life

usually have far more to do with instincts

and other mysterious unconscious factors

than with conscious will

and well-meaning reasonableness.

The shoe that fits one person pinches another;

there is no universal recipe for living.

Each of us carries his own life-form within him—

an irrational form which no other can outbid.”

-Carl Jung

Trust Your Intuition

The radio industry is filled with all kinds of data. So much data, it often paralyzes decision making, rather than aides it.

In the days before this information overload, decisions were made on gut instincts.

Throughout recorded time, some of the most heralded scientific discoveries, like those of Archimedes or Einstein, came to be while that person was napping, dreaming, bathing or the like. Only later were these discoveries validated through scientific methods.

When I read George Johns weekly blog, I often come away with a sense that Geo just knew in his gut the right things to do to make every radio station he touched, be a success.

Face Your Fears

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquering of it,” writes Dan Millman.

Some of the articles I write, where I share the latest research about audience trends, that don’t put the radio industry in a positive light, get some very angry responses from people in radio that are filled with fear. Like if we just all bury our collective heads in the sand, the bad news will go away and the sun will come out again and shine down upon radio. That’s not facing your fears.

So, when should you listen to your fears and when should you work to overcome them. If you find yourself in harms way, let your fear guide you to avoid risks and keep you safe. If what you fear is psychological, such as a fear of shame, embarrassment, rejection, and the like, then you need to push through it.

“I have not ceased being fearful,

but I have ceased

to let fear control me.”

-Erica Jong

The way to overcome psychological fear is to take action, action overcomes fear.

Every time I took over a new radio property as its manager, I felt fear. When I began teaching at the university, the first time I stepped in front of a class, I felt fear. When I was invited to do an airshift on 650AM-WSM out of Nashville, after not having been on-the-air in 30-years, I felt fear. But each time, I pushed through the fear by taking action, and just doing it. The fear went away.

“Don’t tell me I can’t do it

until after I’ve done it.”

-Pam Lontos

Serve Your World

“Service is an attitude founded on the recognition that the world has supported you, fed you, taught you, tested you, whether or not your earned it. Understanding this simple truth can move you to do what you can to repay a boundless debt of gratitude. Service is both a means and an end, for in giving to others, you open yourself to love, abundance, and inner peace. You cannot service others without uplifting yourself,” writes Dan Millman.

When I started my radio career, the words, to operate my radio stations in the ‘public interest, convenience and necessity,’ were etched into my soul. Radio was a business, sure. Radio stations, like all businesses, are in business to make a profit. But the radio business also was there to service their community of license, by entertaining them, informing them and coming to their aide in times of need.

“There must be more to life

than having everything.”

-Maurice Sendak

Through your actions, your radio station’s service provides the ultimate means to establish a firm sense of self-worth. It will impact every area of your radio property and enhance the quality of your life.

“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”

-Robert Byrne

4 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales