By Anonymous (not verified) on August 14, 2012

We need more local broadcasting, not a return to the Fairness Doctrine, to enhance our media diet.

Twenty-five years ago this month, the Reagan administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did away with the Fairness Doctrine. It ruled that the 38-year policy of requiring broadcasters to devote airtime to controversial public issues and to offer diverging viewpoints was obsolete because of the proliferation of cable TV stations.

One of the best examples of the doctrine in action was in 1983, when ABC’s apocalyptic miniseries “The Day After” angered those who believed that a nuclear force was essential to keeping the Soviet Union in check. Following the broadcast, “Nightline” host Ted Koppel hosted a live panel discussion with a diverse group of scientists, policy wonks and public intellectuals. It was during this discussion that Carl Sagan, the legendary scientist, introduced into the public consciousness the phrase “nuclear winter,” a frightening image that remains part of our cultural understanding of the ghastly effects of nuclear warfare.

But the doctrine was not the panacea its champions believed it to be, and it wouldn’t cure what ails us today.

First of all, the FCC never concerned itself with talk shows, and these currently dominate the airwaves, on radio and on cable TV.

Secondly, there are abundant channels to surf, and the Internet is wide open, too.

But critics of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine were also wrong, because lifting it hasn’t given the American public better media nutrition.

Today, just a handful of media conglomerates hog both the TV and radio spectrum.

And local TV news programming is shrinking, with enterprise reporting fading fast. Many stations devote more time to covering the slight variations in temperature within a 30-mile radius than, say, to lifting the veil off of state politics or offering penetrating analysis of school funding.

In fact, a 2006 survey of television news in Chicago conducted by Northwestern University showed that “most news stories have no direct effect on the lives of people in the viewing area.” It added, “Only a small portion of news stories include actionable information.”

Nor has the Internet filled the vacuum. While social media creates buzz, it infrequently drives political debate.

Restoration of the Fairness Doctrine wouldn’t change this course. However, a move toward local ownership of broadcast media — where those in charge have a face in the community — might bring us more information we need and a greater variety of meaningful voices and political sensibilities.

Those were the goals of the Fairness Doctrine, and though it’s dead, they remain worthwhile. So let’s find new ways to accomplish them. Boosting local ownership is one good place to start.

Fred McKissack Jr. is a former Progressive magazine editor and editorial writer who lives in Fort Wayne, Ind. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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