Ronda Roaring, Executive Director of the New York State Coalition for Animals, posted an unintentionally amusing letter on an animal rights mailing list offering advice on how to get activist footage of rodeos on the air. Roaring claimed that, in a nutshell, the FCC has regulations requiring the broadcast of such footage. The only problem is that Roaring’s brilliant scheme is about 15 years too late.
Provided I get a decent video, I can deal with NBC in NYC and my NBC affiliate as far as the rodeos are concerned, but it is up to the rest of you to deal with your local affiliates. The FCC’s 1974 Fairness Report is long, but here’s the part that applies for you to quote to your local affiliates. The station manager will be familiar with this. Print the citation in parentheses just as I have it.
1974 Fairness Report (48 F.C.C.2d 1, 30 R.R.2d 1261)
“(1) the broadcaster must devote a reasonable percentage of time to the coverage of public issues; and (2) his coverage of these issues must be fair in the sense that it provides an opportunity for presentation of contrasting points of view.”
What this means is that licensees are not required to provide equal time or a forum for discussion on the same program, but they are required to make provisions for opposing views as part of their general programming.
Now you’d think that given she was citing a 28-year-old report on the Fairness Doctrine that she might want to check if anything has happened in the intervening years to supersede that, but such research has never exactly been the forte of animal rights activists.
What happened in the intervening years was that the Fairness Doctrine disappeared. In 1984, the Supreme Court overturned regulations on the disbursement of Corporation for Public Broadcasting monies in FCC vs. League of Women Voters. Congress had required that CPB monies could not be given to noncommercial educational stations that engaged in “editorializing.” The Supreme Court ruled that this was provision violated the First Amendment and, in a footnote, the majority hinted that the Fairness Doctrine — which had been upheld as Constitutional in 1969 — would likely face the same fate on largely the same reasoning.
In 1987, the FCC concluded a several years-long evaluation of the Fairness Doctrine by repealing the requirement cited by Roaring on the grounds that it stifled rather than encouraged debate (the main impact was for many broadcasters to simply avoid covering controversies at all, so as not to have to accommodate various sides arguing about how balanced their coverage was).
In both 1987 and 1989 Congress overwhelmingly approved bills to restore the Fairness Doctrine, but both were vetoed by Presidents Reagan and Bush, respectively.
I would just love to see the faces on local television stations when some animal rights activists quotes to them an FCC regulation that was overturned 15 years ago. Then again, it might do some good. Maybe a smart station manager might wonder if the activists can be so off with their information about FCC regulations, maybe they haven’t done their homework about the rodeo either.
FCC’s 1974 Fairness Report. Ronda Roaring, E-mail, November 22, 2002.
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