Friday, March 11, 2011

Fox News: In Defense of Indefensible Media

I've heard reports recently that Fox News - Rupert Murdoch's right-wing media channel - has been refused broadcast rights in Canada because of Canada's Radio Law, which states a broadcaster may not "broadcast....any false or misleading news."

Ironically, I'm not entirely sure whether this account isn't in itself false or misleading - it seems to stem from a single piece written by Pace University Professor Robert F. Kennedy Jnr. that isn't holding up to independent scrutiny.

Nevertheless, it raises a really interesting question about the media in America.

Now, I'm no fan of Fox News. I think all news outlets tend to be biased, but Fox News is deliberately so - and engages in journalistic practices ranging from the outright dishonest to the mind-numbingly stupid.

But I am a fan of the 1st Amendment - and dislike any attempts to finagle with the freedom of the press.

One such attempt was the so-called Fairness Doctrine, introduced by the FCC in 1949 to 'balance' different political positions on the radio (and subsequent broadcast mediums.) It should have been called the 'unFairness Doctine', though, because it basically amounted to a tiny group of regulators having the power to dictate the scope and form political discussion could take - an absolute violation of the 1st Amendment.

Ronald Reagan wisely scrapped the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and that led to the explosion of conservative talk radio - which has since then unequivocally ruled the airwaves. So much so, that many liberals argue that the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated to balance the right-wing opinion out.

But they're wrong.

Because while it's true that talk radio is dominated by the right wing, let us not forget that Hollywood, the television industry, the majority of newspapers, magazines and the bulk of TV news outlets are undeniably (and sometimes proudly) left-leaning.

Complaining about the balance of talk radio is taking the same short-sighted view of the media as the critics of the SIRIUS and XM Satellite Radio merger - it ignores the fact that radio is not the only form of broadcast media people get exposed to these days (which wasn't the case when the Fairness Doctrine was written.)

Given that people get their political opinion from papers, podcasts, online videos and the TV - all in addition to radio - you'd have to admit that balance and fairness already exists. In fact, if there is a bias, amidst the conglomeration of all those other forms of broadcast media, it's almost certainly to the left.

Which is why I think there's an important place for news sources like Fox News - not just in America, but in Canada too. If people are demanding a different form of news media - one that is more aligned to their political opinion - is seems fundamentally undemocratic to deny them that; especially under some self-righteous claim of 'fairness.'

That being said, I would welcome a law like the one Kennedy referenced - which makes it illegal to broadcast 'false and misleading information.' Because if I have one criticism of Fox News (and I actually have plenty) it's that they've been caught lying their pants off time and time again.

Just recently, for example, I was watching the protests in Wisconsin unfold and saw an interesting news clip of a Wisconsin 'union thug' pushing an 'honest, working American' to the ground.

In the background of that clip, however, were palm trees - which resolutely fail to grow in Wisconsin; especially in February!

It was later revealed that the clip used in the Wisconsin news report was taken from a protest in California six months earlier. That's the kind of false and misleading 'reporting' Fox News should be rightly vilified for.

But if America was to adopt a law similar to Canada's - which forbid broadcasting 'false or misleading' information - would Fox News be the only broadcaster to fall foul of it?

What do you think?

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