A Half Century Without the Fairness Doctrine

August 4, 2012

Twenty-five years ago today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted an order effectively repealing the infamous broadcast “Fairness Doctrine.” The Doctrine required that broadcast licensees had to present reasonable opportunity for the airing of contesting points of view when covering issues of public importance to their community. For nearly 40 years, it was upheld in the name of protecting the ‘public interest.’

Lost in this more positive-right view of freedom of speech often espoused by proponents of the Doctrine was the harm it had on the more negative-right view of freedom of speech. But over time the negative-right view won out. It became viewed as a restriction on free speech, creating a “chilling effect” which led broadcasters to avoid covering any controversial public issues due to the requirement to ensure all sides of the issue were covered.

To commemorate the repeal, Reason.tv has posted the following interview with Thomas Hazlett, a professor of law and economics at George Mason University, discussing the history and various issues with the Doctrine:

In addition, I actually wrote my master’s thesis on the subject, relating it to the two conceptions of liberty: positive and negative, as postulated by Isaiah Berlin. In addition to the “chilling effect” argument, I also argued in the thesis that the positive-right conception exemplified in the Doctrine lends itself to an uncomfortable level of paternalism on the part of government regulators and a constitutional abridgement of negative-right speech. For those with probably too much time on their hands, all 184 pages can be read here.


Words for the Weekend – 11-19-10

November 19, 2010

“At the foundation of our civil liberties lies the principle that denies to government officials an exceptional position before the law and which subjects them to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen.”

— Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis


Words for the Weekend – 11-12-10

November 12, 2010

“It’s not an endlessly expanding list of rights – the ‘right’ to education, the ‘right’ to health care, the ‘right’ to food and housing. That’s not freedom, that’s dependency. Those aren’t rights, those are the rations of slavery – hay and a barn for human cattle.”

                                                                                 — P.J. O’Rourke


Words for the Weekend – 9-10-10

September 10, 2010

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=mosque+zero&iid=9654707″ src=”http://view4.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9654707/protestors-oppose-building/protestors-oppose-building.jpg?size=500&imageId=9654707″ width=”234″ height=”163″ /]”Freedom of religion means the right of the individual to choose and to adhere to whichever religious beliefs he may prefer, to join with others in religious associations to express these beliefs, and to incur no civil disabilities because of his choice.”

                         — Joseph Blau


Paternalism at Home and Abroad

August 17, 2010

Two recent news items point out that government paternalism knows no geographical boundaries. The first is from China, the other from here at home.

In China:

… the city of Beijing has resumed mandatory daily workplace calisthenics, after a three-year break. Radio broadcast exercise regimens first began in 1951, but were suspended in 2007 ….

And in our country’s version of Beijing, California:

In San Francisco, newly proposed legislation would ban toys from most kids meals sold at McDonald’s, Burger King and other chains unless the meals meet more stringent calorie and sodium limits. The legislation also would require fruit or veggies in each meal.

Leave it to government, both here and across the ocean, to limit individual choice and freedom via mandates or prohibitions that do not act in any legitimate way to protect individual rights (the core purpose of government). Instead, they are too busy making sure we are healthy.


Post on Candidate’s Health-Care Views Fosters Lively Comment Thread

July 23, 2010

Over at the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) blog, my post from earlier in the week (posted here and on the YAL blog) on a Florida Attorney General candidate’s view that health care “should be” a right has fostered quite a long comment thread. Here are the comments.


Florida AG Candidate: Health Care ‘Should Be’ a Right

July 21, 2010

Nestled in an obscure Florida Attorney General candidates’ debate Friday was a fundamental disagreement over the nature of rights. The specific issue at hand was whether health care is a right.

Notably, one Democratic candidate, Dan Gelber, asserted the following on the matter:

Health care should be a right, not a privilege.

Note the verb “should be.” Gelber didn’t claim it “was” a right. Such phrasing seems to deny that rights are fundamental to all individuals (e.g.; “endowed by their Creator“) and not determined by the whims of popular opinion or government decree. He is suggesting, at least in his wording, that rights become rights after being acknowledged by government.

Florida AG candidate Dan Gelber

Government creation of rights is anathema to the framers’ understanding of rights. Rights, to them, were innate to being human. They were only to be protected by government, not dependent on government for their existence.

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California’s Balance Between Free Speech and Property

July 5, 2010

The previous post, posted here and on the YAL blog, generated an interesting discussion over California’s approach to balancing free-speech and property rights. One notable point made in the comments thread involved the case of Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins (1980).

In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could extend rights beyond that of the U.S. Constitution so long as doing so does not violate rights protected by the Constitution. The case dealt with the California Supreme Court ruling that their constitution’s protection of free speech allowed for individuals to exercise their free-speech rights in a private shopping mall, despite the wishes of the mall owners. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the California Supreme Court that this did not violate the mall owner’s property rights under the fifth and fourteenth amendments.

Justices of the Supreme Court of CaliforniaLegally, such a situation is allowed under the current precedent. In California, individual speech rights apparently can trump property rights in certain cases, with some exceptions (example). It’s in a way similar to the “public accommodation” approach in U.S. law that forbids businesses from not serving customers based on race. It transforms private property into something more — a public space.

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The First Amendment and Private Property

July 3, 2010

A story from OneNewsNow recently reported that the Pacific Justice Institute is suing a California shopping mall for what it believes to be a violation of constitutional freedoms. The alledged violation is that a mall policy bans the following:

… anyone [from] ever sharing their faith or political views with anyone else in the shopping mall at any time if they did not know that person prior to entering the shopping mall.

The story also reported that the mall had rules banning individuals from “wearing any clothing that displays religious or political messages.”

The problem with this argument is that the First Amendment, coupled with the Fourteenth Amendment applying much of the Bill of Rights to the states, prohibits the federal and state governments from abridging political speech or prohibiting religious freedom. It says nothing of private individuals or mall owners who have their own ground rules for individuals wishing to enter their property.

Americans have every right to express their political or religious views, but we don’t have a right to demand others allow us on their property to do so. This principle also applies to other freedoms.

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“Fair” Pay

June 26, 2010

Some in the media have picked up on the following video clip from the Secretary of Labor claiming that all workers, legal or illegal, have the right to be paid fairly:

Conservatives are in an uproar that she would imply that illegal immigrants have a right to be paid fairly when they are in the country illegally. But somehow lost in this uproar are more fundamental questions. What does “fair” mean? Who gets to decide what “fair” pay is? And, what does it mean for someone to have a right to “fair” pay?

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