FAIRNESS DOCTRINE

 

Scope and Content Note

 

The Fairness Doctrine, enforced by the Federal Communications Council, was rooted in the media world of 1949.  Lawmakers became concerned that the monopoly audience control of the three main networks, NBC, ABC and CBS, could misuse their broadcast licenses to set a biased public agenda.

 

The Fairness Doctrine mandated broadcast networks devote time to contrasting views on issues of public importance. Congress backed the policy in 1954 and by the 1970s the FCC called the doctrine the “single most important requirement of operation in the public interest – the sine qua non for grant of a renewal of license.

 

The Supreme Court upheld the doctrine. In 1969’s Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, journalist Fred Cook sued a Pennsylvania Christian Crusade radio program after a radio host attacked him on air. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld Cook's right to an on-air response under the Fairness Doctrine, arguing that nothing in the First Amendment gives a broadcast license holder the exclusive right to the airwaves they operate on.

 

The doctrine stayed in effect, and was enforced until the Reagan Administration. In 1985, under FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler, a communications attorney who had served on Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign staff in 1976 and 1980, the FCC released a report stating that the doctrine hurt the public interest and violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Fowler began rolling the application of the doctrine back during Reagan's second term — despite complaints from some in the Administration that it was all that kept broadcast journalists from thoroughly lambasting Reagan's policies on air. In 1987, the FCC panel, under new chairman Dennis Patrick, repealed the Fairness Doctrine altogether with a 4-0 vote

 

The FCC vote was opposed by members of Congress who said the FCC had tried to "flout the will of Congress" and the decision was "wrongheaded, misguided and illogical.".The decision drew political fire and tangling, where cooperation with Congress was at issue. In June 1987, Congress attempted to preempt the FCC decision and codify the Fairness Doctrine, (Fairness in Broadcasting Act of 1987 S. 742)/

 

The bill passed but the legislation was vetoed by President Ronald Reagan.  Congress was unable to muster enough votes to overturn the President’s veto.

 

This topic guide contains material on the doctrine itself, the vote on the Fairness in Broadcasting Act of 1987, the President’s subsequent veto and the aftermath of this vote.

 

WHORM SUBJECT FILE

 

BE003-04      case files 202860, 490374

 

FG006-01      case files 049984, 088624, 516092, 527477

 

FG010-03      case files 317308, 474465, 474466

 

FI004            case files 527410, 545912, 549208

 

HU010 case files 468316, 486661

 

LE                case file 494224

 

LE002           case files 519825, 520853

 

PR007-02      case file 475250

 

PR013           case files 224113, 608042

 

PR014-08      case file 505038

 

PR016           case files 493916, 494257, 496840

 

PR016-01      case files 045485, 055908, 503502

 

SP287-20       entire category

 

PU               case file 398374

 

UT001           case files 367381, 524547

 

UT001-01      casefiles 475192, 487909, 493899, 494224, 495557, 498700, 499114, 499115,

 499272, 499597, 499598, 502980, 504439, 504938, 505278, 505535, 505705,

505710, 516681, 517464, 518278, 537222, 537281, 537312, 537340, 537379,

539196, 546514, 546625, 546625, 546514, 548179

 

WHITE HOUSE STAFF AND OFFICE FILES

 

Baker, Howard: Files

          Box 2

          Fairness Doctrine

 

Ball, William : Files

          OA 15332

          Fairness Doctrine I

          Fairness Doctrine II

 

Bledsoe, Ralph C.: Files: Domestic Policy Council

Box 36

340 – Fairness Doctrine (1)(2)

 

Board, Elizabeth: Files

          Box 10

          Fairness Doctrine

 

Bockorny, David: Files

          OA 17458

          Fairness Doctrine

 

          OA 17459

          Fairness Doctrine (1)(2)

 

Cooksey, Sherrie M.: Files: Office of the Counsel to the President

          OA 11724

          SMC/Fairness Doctrine (1)-(3)

 

Cribb, T. Kenneth: Files – Cabinet Affairs

          OA 4821

          “Fairness Doctrine” Letters April 1982

          “Fairness Doctrine” Letters May 1982

          “Fairness Doctrine” Letters June 1982 (1)(2)

          “Fairness Doctrine” Letters July 1982

 

Cribb, T. Kenneth: Files: Office of Domestic Affairs

          Box 11

          (Domestic Policy Council) DPC Council Issue – The Fairness Doctrine

 

Box 18

Veto Recommendation for the Fairness in Broadcasting Act, 06/17/1987 Memo

 

Executive Clerk, White House Office of the: Bill Reports

Box 80

06/22/1987 S. 742 [Fairness in Broadcasting Act of 1987] - Veto (1)-(3)

 

Gergen, David: Files

          OA 9022

          Fairness Doctrine

 

Goldfield, H. P.: Files

          OA 9708

          HPG Fairness Doctrine (1)-(5)

 

Harlow, Bryce Larry: Files

          OA 17036

          Fairness Doctrine/S.742

 

Keisler, Peter D.: Files

          Box 15

          Fairness Doctrine (1)-(3)

 

Kruger, Robert M.: Files

          OA 18397

          RMK/Fairness Doctrine

 

Media Relations, Office of: Records

          Box 62

          Fairness Doctrine Veto 06/20/1987

 

Policy Development, Office of: Records

          OA 6190

          Fairness Doctrine

 

Public Affairs, White House Office of: Records

          OA 18016

          Fairness Doctrine

 

          OA 19208

          Fairness Doctrine 06/23/1987

 

Risque, Nancy J.: Files: Office of the Cabinet Secretary

          OA 18381

          Fairness Doctrine

 

Raul, Alan: Files

          OA 19144

          Fairness Doctrine

 

Sprinkel, Beryl: Files

          OA 17747

          04/15/1987 (1:30pm) Domestic Policy Council Meeting re: Fairness Doctrine

 

Sweet, Robert: Files

          OA 16626

          Fairness Doctrine: Republican Policy Committee Legislative Notice

 

Last Updated: 2/10/2014                                                                                     Most Recent Opening: 8/15/2013

 

Case#                      Researcher                            Topic                                       Pages      Restricted              

F05-115                   Sarah Posner                          Fairness Doctrine                  643          0             

F10-018                   Brian Thrift                             Fairness Doctrine                  483          0