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Title:The Fairness Doctrine in Its Historical Context: A Symbolic Approach
Author(s):Wuliger, Gregory Tod
Department / Program:Speech Communication
Discipline:Speech Communication
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Mass Communications
Abstract:The Fairness Doctrine is a policy of the Federal Communications Commission requiring broadcast licensees to seek out and cover controversial issues of public importance and to present such coverage fairly. In practice, this has meant that broadcast licensees have had to grant response time for opposing points of view whenever they have raised controversial issues of public importance. Supporters of the doctrine say that it provides at least some diversity of ideas in a profit-oriented broadcast system; critics say that it inhibits broadcasters from covering controversial issues and violates their first amendment rights.
This dissertation regards the Fairness Doctrine as a symbol closely related to such broad general myths as "freedom of expression," "free enterprise," and "the marketplace of ideas." Relying on Congressional hearings, court cases, and FCC rulings, the dissertation argues that elements of these myths are embodied in the American system of broadcasting, of which the Fairness Doctrine is just a part. It studies the system from a historical standpoint, showing the origins of these myths and symbols, and arguing that these myths and symbols have no objective reality, but are simply social constructions generated within the parameters of politics, economics, technology, and culture. Broadcast regulation in the 20th century is compared with the licensing of printing in Tudor and Stuart England to show that regulation generally creates monopoly. To legitimize such monopoly in terms of generally accepted myths, such symbols as "fairness" are necessary. The commitment to these symbols by the broadcasters who live with them is shown historically to be subservient to the profit motive. Further, it is shown that government benefits by seeming to sanction "fairness" while in fact limiting the expression of unpopular ideas over a medium it fears; industry benefits by obtaining markets through advertising; and the public benefits by participating in a consumer economy. What suffers dramatically is the level of public debate. The dissertation concludes that the Fairness Doctrine is largely ineffective in promoting meaningful public discussion, but that there is little reason to abolish it unless the broadcast system that produced it is also abandoned.
Issue Date:1987
Description:744 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1987.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8721787
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-05-13
Date Deposited:1987

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