The Federal Communications Commission announced on Monday that it will slash 83 media-related rules from the books—including the controversial but defunct Fairness Doctrine—in an effort to clean house by shedding regulations that it no longer enforces.
The Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to provide equal airtime to opposing views. On the books since 1949, it had not been enforced since 1987.
It was enacted when radio and television airwaves were considered a public resource that had to be managed fairly and without bias. Anyone holding a broadcast license was required to provide news and public affairs programming and to present opposing viewpoints.
For instance, the Doctrine was invoked in the 1960s to force broadcasters to air public service announcements educating people about the risks of tobacco if they carried ads from cigarette makers. In 1987, Congress passed a bill to make it law, but then-President Reagan vetoed it and asked the FCC to stop enforcing it.
"The demise of the Fairness Doctrine led to a polarized media environment and the rise of opinion stars like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, and others. It has contributed to an AM radio talk show environment that is almost completely dominated by conservative pundits," the Center for Media and Democracy complains on its website.
FCC critics have made hay over the controversial policy in recent years. "The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.
“Our work is not done. I have directed each bureau at the FCC to conduct a review of rules within their areas with the goal of eliminating or revising rules that are outdated or place needless burdens on businesses."
The FCC sometimes fails to take the final steps to remove rules from the books even after they are struck down by the courts or voted down by the agency.
In his statement, Genachowski cited President Obama's directive earlier this year for government officials to cut unneeded regulations as "consistent with the values and philosophy we apply at the FCC."
The FCC's house-cleaning will occur through an order by the managing director and chief of media bureau. It does not require a commission vote. Genachowski said last June that the rule would go.
After Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot and injured in January and before suspect Jared Loughner was caught, many speculated that extremist political comments had incited the attack. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., both called for reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine afterwards.