Thursday, May 03, 2007

In all fairness

Fairness Doctrine

Rwanda: 1994. The President's helicopter had just been shot and long-curdling hatred between two warring ethnic groups detonated into genocide. Heavily armed Hutus raided Tutsi churches and neighborhoods indiscriminately slaughtering every man, woman and child they found. How was this level of organization achieved in such a short period, and how could a few unholy puppeteers provoke such an orgy of bloodshed? Answer: state-sponsored radio. In the years preceding the genocide, Hutus were told to listen to their radios for their news, the messages riding the airwaves were considered instructions direct from the President. During the mass slaughter, enraged Hutus tuned in to find out what areas required eradication and how to mobilize with others to achieve that end. At its conclusion approximately 500,000 Tutsis died in a supremely well-coordinated assault on a devalued segment of the population.

Rwanda wasn't an aberration. Nazi Germany used radio to brand fear of Jews into the disenchanted, and similar actions were taken in the Balkans. Here, in America, the "Fairness Doctrine" in broadcasting was nullified by a Reagan-appointed Chairman of the FCC. This opened a hole in radio which was immediately filled by a young, jabbering neo-con, Rush Limbaugh. From this first seed sprouted a healthy crop of imitators, all eager to shout their watchword louder than the others.

The "Fairness Doctrine" obliged broadcasters to present all perspectives of controversial issues. This way a journalist's editorial slant didn't disrupt the flow of information. The doctrine's abolition kicked the door open for the right and slammed it shut for the left. All journalists were remade into spokes models. No longer were there just journalists whose prime operative was a well-informed Democracy, their mission became the wholesale marketing of paranoia.

It is difficult to tell which sells better: sex or fear. But one thing is certain, fear is effective. Despite legislation in the Regan and George H.W. Bush administrations, the resurrection of the "Fairness Doctrine" was never realized, and the right consequentially established an empire of profit-centric infotainment. Until now the perpetual spin machine has been relatively unchallenged. The introduction of the "Media Ownership Reform Act" (H.R. 3302) has Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage and others squirming. Perhaps these propagandists' days of repurposing old tricks are numbered.

Talk radio's denigration of liberals mirrors aspects of Rwandan hate radio. Both warn of an internal threat that thirsts for dominance. Throughout the genocide, the Hutus were convinced they were fighting a war of self defense. Conservatives have been made to feel victimized by the leftwing who they believe exists solely to undermine their values.

You may be saying - "Wait, at least our rightwing nutjobs aren't calling for the massacre of progressives." My response: Terrific. So, we're better than Rwanda. That is not what makes a great Democracy. The lifeblood of a Democratic society is information carried to the people through the media, however, people no longer trust these sources, and plenty of this erosion of trust in this apparatus is due to the adjournment of the "Fairness Doctrine". It's time to restore our faith in this public commodity.

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