Sunday, December 07, 2008

Fairness Doctrine

In a discussion on the URTV mailing list, a member offered some comments on a video supporting the re-introduction of the Fairness Doctrine:

"skilarqaol" wrote:
RFK Jr on the Fairness Doctrine [video]
And a strong argument for bringing it back.

I would have to disagree.

What Mr. Kennedy and others are essentially proposing is to use the coercive force of the federal government to reduce individual liberty; in this case, in the marketplace of ideas.

This is a view that Mr. Kennedy shares with his political adversaries: conservative Republicans.
Conservatives have long supported the FCC’s war on so-called indecency. Both sides endorse the principle that the government should be dictating what Americans can and cannot say — they only differ in the way they want to use the censor’s pen to advance political agendas. -Don Watkins

For the supporters of so-called "fairness" to abandon persuasion in favor of coercion is, sadly, an admission of defeat. If reactionary liberals were competitive or even dominant in radio, the impulse to use force to achieve "fairness" would evaporate.

The Fairness Doctrine is an authoritarian encroachment on the rights of individuals by interfering in the marketplace of ideas behind the curtain of the law. It is for this reason that I do not, and cannot, support it.


In response, "skilarqaol" wrote:
The video made some points I find interesting, in that 5 or 6 huge companies own our national media...

Yes. Why have "The Big Five" when we could have the small 500?

The reason there are "5 or 6 huge companies" owning radio is because of government interference in the free market.

It is the government that grants licenses and regulates broadcast companies. This government intervention allows media monopolies to exist by hampering competition from entrants and by lending a reciprocal legislative hand to the most powerful among them. The larger the corporation the better they are able to afford the costs of licensing, regulation and lobbying, as well as afford the corporate largess that redounds to the lawmaker's benefit from time to time in exchange for a favor. Thanks to the government, the bigger the better.

And that's what we're seeing: Media conglomerates are simply playing by the rules forced upon them by the government in order to survive and continue providing value to the community for profit. That means, as a sad consequence, consolidating and limiting competition through legislation.

Monopolies can exist only by virtue of government interference in the economy. By artificially and arbitrarily setting the terms of entrance into a market, the government sets the stage for corruption and predation.
Corruption is a regular effect of interventionism. An analysis of interventionism would be incomplete if it were not to refer to the phenomenon of corruption. —Ludwig von Mises, Human Action

Not so in a free market. Monopolies cannot exist in a laissez-faire free market capitalist political economy. Any time a corporation consolidates to dominate a given market, the consumer always has the option of withholding their patronage or of patronizing other media or of entering the market themselves to compete for the attention of the media consumer.

In a free market, entrepreneurs would own and operate radio stations entirely without the permission, or the control, of the government. The radio broadcast spectrum is not the property of a mysterious and shape-shifting "public." It is property like any other, and must conform to the rules governing property, like any other.

The spectrum is treated like a street fair with each vendor having his own claim to a space along the avenue. Other vendors must respect this private property and the freedom the vendor should have to make use of it as he sees fit, without interference from other booth owners. The government, in this case, must restrict the scope of its action to protecting the rights of the property owners.

If someone attempted to buy up all of the booths themselves, they would still have to provide products or services that meet with the utmost approval of the consuming public. If they do not, then this necessarily opens the door to competition; any competition. The uncompetitive owner would then have to cash in, or sell some of his booths to someone else who could better turn a profit and thereby salvage his investment. And profit, keep in mind, is the key indicator that a business is providing a value to "the public."

Media consolidation is a problem. But it is only a problem for socialism, not capitalism.

I advocate the free market approach to the airwaves.