Sentinel under Siege: The Triumphs and Troubles of America's Free Press

By Stanley E. Flink | Go to book overview

23
FREE AS THE AIR

It will be a long day before broadcast news gets rid of all government controls. Some of the most powerful members of Congress favored the Fairness Doctrine and still favor it. There are special interest groups and academics in the private sector that would like to have the Fairness Doctrine back again. The Fairness Doctrine was anything but fair. William Paley once said, "It is like the Holy Roman Empire, neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire."

-- Emerson Stone, former vice president, CBS News; columnist on ethics in broadcasting news, Communicator Magazine

The electronic press will always be vulnerable to the charge that it is a public utility in private hands. In that "corporate world" morality does not rise to the top, borne by internal principles. It is formed by all kinds of changing relationships, economic and political, and in that context, managerial moralities are always situational, always contingent. Does it follow that government regulation will ensure enduring principles? The Supreme Court, in 1969, upheld the notion of a "new" First Amendment, "one befitting this 'new' method of communication."1

The "new" First Amendment said, and still seems to say, that TV anchorpeople -- hair blown and calculatingly garbed, sitting in what looks like a theatrical set surrounded by flickering monitors and the nimbus of overhead spotlights -- do not have quite the same constitutional protections available to their cousins in the print media. The assumption continues to be that entertainment is not a contributor to the "public debate" envisioned by the First Amendment. The lively fly in that ointment is the statistical evidence that most Americans get the greatest proportion of their "news" from the television set. If news is going to be delivered primarily by television -- not thrown on the front steps by a youngster on a bicycle -- attitudes concerning the electronic medium might change, and government policy might adjust.

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