Sunday, June 24, 2007

Muzzling the masses

As a followup to a post I wrote last weekend, here's a Fox News transcript of US senators Trent Lott (Republican) and Dianne Feinstein (Democrat) expressing their support for measures to fix the "problem" of talk radio. The "Fairness Doctrine" Feinstein refers to was a previous attempt by the Federal Communications Commission to ensure equal time for opposing political opinions; begun in 1949 when there were only three major broadcasting networks, it was discontinued in 1987 as being incompatible with the spirit of the First Amendment. In addition to being a violation of freedom of speech, the Doctrine allows unelected regulators a large degree of control over the airwaves to enforce their subjective notion of what constitutes a "fair" balance. Since the vast majority of talk-radio in the US is conservative in orientation (especially since the demise of the left- of- centre and low- rated Air America), the proposal to revive the Doctrine amounts to a partisan desire to capture a listening audience by any means necessary. (This at least is the motivation for Democrats. For Republicans like Lott, the measure is more a way to exact revenge against a medium which has rallied widespread support against his immigration- amnesty bill.)

For a real nightmare, just imagine how this sort of thing would apply to the Internet. Proponents of "fairness" have suggested that political advocacy websites be forced to link to sites promoting opposing points of view. But there are more than seventy million blogs in the world, the majority of them based in the United States and a fair number of which concern themselves with political issues. To police these sites would require a vast expansion of FCC authority, so that the US could end up with a degree of internet regulation rivalling that of China. (Not that the FCC would mind, of course -- more jobs for the boys.)

If this kind of insanity can seriously be considered in the United States -- traditionally the nation which has been most committed to freedom of speech and property rights -- the rest of us who live in countries with even more government regulation have lots to worry about.

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