How Abandoning the Fairness Doctrine Has Led to the Increased Political Polarization of the United States

In 1949, a new policy was introduced to the broadcasting world by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — the fairness doctrine. This policy required that broadcasters devote some of their airtime to presenting contrasting views on controversial matters in a way that was honest, equitable, and balanced. Stations were given wide leeway on how they could implement this, whether it be in news segments, shows about public affairs, or editorials. Stations were not even required to spend the same amount of time viewing an issue from each viewpoint, as long as they touched on each one in a fair way. The main reason for the rule’s implementation was to expose the public to a variety of viewpoints and not allow for the monopolization of airtime by political or ideological groups.

But back in 1949, there were few television stations, and thus it was deemed easier for such groups to monopolize airtime. Over the years, however, television and radio stations grew in number, and the fairness doctrine was increasingly seen as an unneeded rule. There were so many stations, how would it even be possible for any one group to control what was said on more than one or two stations? Thus, the policy was abandoned in 1987.

But was the rule really unneeded? Since the rule’s revocation, shows and radio stations have emerged that cater to only one viewpoint, to the detriment of their viewers. People who watch these shows on a regular basis become exposed to only one viewpoint, and only ever know one side of an issue in depth.

One example is the emergence of political talk shows. In these segments, hosts present issues of importance to the public in biased terms that tear down the other political party. These shows appeal to viewers of certain political parties who use such shows as mediums for confirmation bias, where viewers interpret information as evidence to support their own beliefs, and are not being exposed to facts that support the other party’s political view. This has led to the radicalization of both parties, where largely uninformed or misinformed viewers are fed information that confirm their own beliefs, leading them to believe that any other viewpoint is wrong.

Under the fairness doctrine, different views were presented fairly and in an equitable way, normalizing the habit of seeing all sides of an issue in the minds of those who listened to television and radio. Without the policy, stations have been allowed to radicalize towards one idea or another, stratifying the broadcasting world, and, at the same time, the American people.