Government-Approved Radio

Imagine you're the host of a Christian radio talk show. Yesterday you interviewed a local pastor who is against legalized abortion. But today you get a call from the Federal Communications Commission. You're told you must now give equal time to a guest who supports legalized abortion. Otherwise, your station can be fined as much as $250,000. You can even have your license revoked. No, this is not an Orwellian vision of 1984. It's what could happen here in America if the so-called Fairness Doctrine is written into law. The Fairness Doctrine, currently before Congress, would give the federal government the power to monitor the airwaves and ensure that conflicting views get a fair hearing. At first blush, that may strike Christians as a good idea. Surveys show that most major broadcasters are relentlessly biased against Christian values. But if the bill passes, don't expect a sudden rush to give Christians air time. The history of this kind of measure is far from encouraging. Back in 1934 the FCC established essentially the same rule, requiring broadcasters to give air time to opposing views. The regulation quickly degenerated into a political tool to silence dissenting voices. In the Kennedy administration, the Democratic National Committee used the fairness doctrine to force conservative radio stations to give free air time to editorials supporting the administration. A former Kennedy official told the Los Angeles Times, "Our massive strategy was to use the fairness doctrine to challenge and harass right-wing broadcasters." The Johnson administration carried on the same tradition. Its harassment of media critics was so ruthless that one case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Nixon administration loved the fairness doctrine, too. I should know: Nixon often gave me the job of pressuring the networks into providing free air time for pro-White House editorials-all in the name of equal time. Not surprisingly, the policy had a chilling effect on broadcasting, and in 1987 the FCC killed it. But now it has mysteriously come back to life. Does anyone believe the Clinton administration is so morally pure that it will resist the temptation to abuse the law, as so many earlier administrations have done? Wishful thinking. The lesson of history is all too clear: The Fairness Doctrine gives the federal government too much power to regulate ideas and ideology. Rush Limbaugh likes to say he doesn't need to give opposing views equal time on his program. With the liberal slant of the mainstream media, he says, "I am equal time." Christian radio shows could easily say the same: With the secular monopoly on the major networks, Christian stations are equal time. But government regulators are not likely to see it that way. The Fairness Doctrine would give them the power to pick and choose the stations they want to harass. Write your representatives in Congress and urge them to vote against the Fairness Doctrine. Americans don't need government supervision of what we listen to on the radio. We don't need to get our ideas in government-approved doses.


Chuck Colson


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