I need to do a fair amount of travel by car for work – and often through rural areas where NPR stations just don’t reach. But rightwing and Christian stations do. Even though I am not a Christian, I actually prefer listening to the latter. There is less annoying bluster accompanying the dissemination of their views, and I get a window into what they are thinking.
So let me share with you what I heard last week on one of my trips.
Now if you were to guess what their hot issue would be, I’m sure you would say “abortion” – and you would be correct that it is an issue. But even more important, apparently, is the now-defunct FCC Fairness Doctrine. This is a key issue for them. So first, some background on the Fairness Doctrine.
The Fairness Doctrine
The Fairness Doctrine was not a rule about including a range of opinions. It was a recognition that the airwaves are a precious national resource. The trade for possessing a piece of this resource was to use it in the public interest. That trade has long been lost to public memory, but it is an important issue.
The policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission that became known as the “Fairness Doctrine” is an attempt to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair. The FCC took the view, in 1949, that station licensees were “public trustees,” and as such had an obligation to afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance. The Commission later held that stations were also obligated to actively seek out issues of importance to their community and air programming that addressed those issues. With the deregulation sweep of the Reagan Administration during the 1980s, the Commission dissolved the fairness doctrine.
The history of the Fairness Doctrine, issues involving the First Amendment, and more are discussed here.
One way of seeing the impact of the loss of the Fairness Doctrine under the Reagan administration is its freeing powerful interests to pour money into rightwing talk, freeing them to say just about any thing they wanted. The result was building up conservative views, leading to electoral success, leading to financial support for conservative partisans, leading to more financial support for conservative broadcasting.
You can find more perspectives on the Fairness Doctrine by FAIR, by the Heritage Foundation and on NOW with David Brancaccio. Here is discussion on whether Obama would bring back the Fairness Doctrine at the DemocraticUnderground.
The Christian radio program I tuned into was an affiliate of and produced by the Salem Radio Network (SRN) is a “Christian-focused news organization”.
It sounds like any regular talk radio with a CNN type news summary and a full line up of talkshow hosts.
According to the Orlando Sentinal:
Think of the company as the evangelical Clear Channel; they now own 105 stations, 62 of them in 22 of the top 25 markets. The company’s clout, however, comes not only from their numbers, but also from their political views. The two founders of the company are deep-pocket contributors to Republican groups, and they’re not shy about using their stations to push a conservative agenda.
. . .
It wasn’t until 1987, however, that they began to change the way talk radio operated.
Until then, the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine ruled. While not requiring equal time for opposing views, the rule did prohibit broadcasters from airing the same political views day after day. Threats of fines or the pulling of radio licenses kept Salem’s programs from stepping too far to the right. As Epperson recently wrote on the American Conservative Union Foundation website, “We are in the [radio] business primarily because we have a point of view.”
When the FCC repealed the Fairness Doctrine, Atsinger and Epperson were free to move as far to the right as they cared. On-air hosts no longer had to mute conservative leanings, and they could take caller after like-minded caller who spoke their minds. It was the beginning of conservative talk radio as we know it today.
Ken Mills, the former news director for Public Radio International, the leader in syndicated programming for National Public Radio, says Salem was a pioneer in using the public airwaves to promote a partisan agenda.
“Salem took that FCC ruling and ran with it,” Mills says. “They really perfected the art of pushing a narrow political view.”
So it was that when I tuned in they were making the case that the most important reason for voting against Obama was the claim that he would restore the Fairness Doctrine. The reason for their concern, they said, is that they would be forced to give equal time to anti-Christian groups. A parade of horribles then followed.
More on Christian broadcasting
As I said, SRN sounds a lot like more mainstream talk radio, more akin to PBS in tone than Rush Limbaugh. According to a May 2007 thesis by Liberty University communications masters student, Kornel Gerstner, The Pioneering Journey of Christian Radio Through Satellite Distribution: A Historical Overview of the Moody Broadcasting Network 1982 – 2002, these are some of SRN’s news shows.
SRN NEWS UPDATE — A fast-paced minute of the latest national and international news headlines at the bottom of the hour 12 times each weekday. 5:30am – 8:30pm CT (except 11:30am, 2:30pm, 4:30pm & 6:30pm).
SRN NEWS — Hourly newscasts are provided 24 hours a day Monday through Saturday and 22 hours on Sunday. SRN NEWS starts at 55:00 after each hour and runs until 59:00. In addition to national and international news, Christian-interest news is included within the 57:00 to 58:00 segment.
SRN SPORTS — SRN Sports provides the most up to the minute news on sports available. The sports casts are 1:00 minute in length and are 6 times daily Monday through Friday and 7 times on Saturday.
SRN BUSINESS — This Monday through Friday feature reports the closing stock and commodities market figures along with the important business stories of the day. The SRN Business report is 1:00 minute in length.
That thesis also provides a detailed history of the growth of Christian broadcasting and its fights with the FCC over issues that include the Fairness Doctrine. link
Today, Salem has an amazing array of affiliates and services it provides:
Salem is a leading U.S. radio broadcaster, Internet content provider, and magazine and book publisher targeting audiences interested in Christian and family-themed content and conservative values. In addition to its radio properties, Salem owns Salem Radio Network®, which syndicates talk, news and music programming to approximately 2,000 affiliates; Salem Radio Representatives™, a national radio advertising sales force; Salem Web Network™, a leading Internet provider of Christian content and online streaming; and Salem Publishing™, a leading publisher of Christian-themed magazines. The company owns and operates approximately 100 radio stations, including stations in 23 of the top 25 markets.
Salem Communications consists of the following businesses:
* Owns and/or operates approximately 100 radio stations, the majority of which are in 23 of the nation’s top 25 radio markets
* Christian Teaching and Talk format
* Contemporary Christian Music or Salem’s branded FISH® format
* News Talk Format
SALEM RADIO NETWORK® (SRN)
* Talk, music and news programming
* Syndicates more than 190 hours of daily original programs
* More than 2,000 affiliates in 305 markets nationwide
SALEM RADIO REPRESENTATIVES® (SRR)
* The country’s premier media advertising sales firm targeting advertisers who wish to reach Christian and family-themed audience
* Represents more than 400 radio stations, Salem’s owned and operated stations and all SRN products
* 14 offices nationwide
* Vista Radio Reps™ serving clients through contemporary Christian music and conservative News Talk radio formats.
SALEM WEB NETWORK™
Industry-leading websites for Christian and conservative opinion content and a leading provider of online streaming for Christian ministries, CCM and gospel music
* Salem radio station websites
A leading publisher of Christian music and ministry magazines
* CCM Magazine®
* Homecoming Magazine®
* Singing News™
* Preaching Magazine
* Youthworker™ Magazine
* Crosswalk.com Magazine
* Faith Talk Magazine