Broadcast Localism and the Lessons of the Fairness Doctrine

In this policy briefing, John Samples examines the legacy of the speech-stifling Fairness Doctrine to inform a recent broadcast localism initiative. Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has permanently removed the Fairness Doctrine from its regulatory books, localism isn’t going away. While the Fairness Doctrine required licensed broadcasters to share airwaves equally in order to preserve competing political viewpoints, the broadcast localism initiative would similarly silence speech by exposing it to regulation through content requirements and advisory boards that would oversee broadcast speech. Furthermore, as was the case under the Fairness Doctrine, under this proposed localism initiative, these regulations would be susceptible to exploitation by individuals who wished to use them to bully and silence their opponents. Accordingly, through a historical overview of this political intimidation culminating with the end of the Fairness Doctrine, Samples illustrates the dangers in pursuing a policy of localism and recommends that the FCC avoid this type of regulation.