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Let the whining begin: Talk radio and the Fairness Doctrine
Posted by: mcq on Thursday, June 21, 2007

Well the study has been published and the unsurprising findings are in about the state of talk radio in the US:
– In the spring of 2007, of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners, 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming was conservative, and only 9 percent was progressive.

– Each weekday, 2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk are broadcast on these stations compared to 254 hours of progressive talk — 10 times as much conservative talk as progressive talk.

– 76 percent of the news/talk programming in the top 10 radio markets is conservative, while 24 percent is progressive.
For anyone who pays attention, these numbers should really come as no surprise. This has been the state of a affairs ever since the resurrection of AM radio via the talk format in the '80s.

The conclusion of the study on how to 'fix' the problem? Well you can be guaranteed it doesn't include the market. In fact, the study asserts that it isn't the market at all that's driving the disparity. No, somehow it's a cabal of white men and large corporations forcing conservative talk on the country while government has failed to enforce "fairness":
Our conclusion is that the gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system, particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules including the requirement of local participation in management. [...]
Shorter version? Corporations - bad. Government needs to step in and regulate content and ownership.
Ultimately, these results suggest that increasing ownership diversity, both in terms of the race/ethnicity and gender of owners, as well as the number of independent local owners, will lead to more diverse programming, more choices for listeners, and more owners who are responsive to their local communities and serve the public interest.
Shorter version? The big boys shouldn't be allowed to own as many stations as they own now in a market and especially if the owners are white guys.

As to the first conclusion, if you don't think the push is to have more government regulation of radio, this from the study:
Moreover, the original Communications Act of 1934 still authorizes the FCC to require “reasonable access to or to permit purchase of reasonable amounts of time” by a legally qualified candidate for federal elective office, and equal opportunities must be afforded all other candidates for that office. These obligations come from the same set of concerns from which the Fairness Doctrine arose.

And Section 315 of the Communications Act still requires commercial broadcasters “to operate in the public interest and to afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of issues of public importance.”

Thus, the public obligations inherent in the Fairness Doctrine are still in existence and operative, at least on paper. More important, the Fairness Doctrine was never, by itself, an effective tool to ensure the fair discussion of important issues.
The obvious point ... have the FCC step in and force "fairness" by ensuring the "progressive" (liberal) view is aired equally with the conservative view on stations.

Note the date of the law. Note also how the study avoids any mention of the explosion in media formats by which the public can find and listen to "progressive" talk if they're so inclined.

As to the second point, first the premise:
Minorities tend to vote for Democratic candidates and report relatively high levels of Democratic Party identification. White males tend to vote for Republican candidates and have a higher Republican Party affiliation identification. For women, the lines are not so clearly drawn, with a near even split between the Democratic and Republican candidates in the 2004 presidential election.
Our data indicate that minority-owned stations are less likely than non-minority-owned stations to air the conservative programming in our sample (4.6 percent of minority owned stations, versus 12 percent of the non-minority-owned stations aired at least one of the five conservative hosts). Among talk and news format stations, 22.5 percent of minority-owned stations aired conservative programming, versus 50.6 percent of the non-minority-owned news and talk stations.
And women? The trend is much less but enough:
Stations owned by women were less likely than those not owned by women to air the conservative hosts in our sample, though the magnitude of the difference was not as large as was observed in the case of minority owners (9.2 percent of female-owned stations aired the conservative programming, versus 11.6 percent of the non-female owned stations). Among news and talk format stations, 42.6 percent of women-owned stations aired conservative programming, versus 50.1 percent of the non-female-owned stations, though this difference is not statistically significant. The progressive programming did air at a slightly higher level on female-owned news and talk stations (11.5 percent versus 9.7 percent of the non-female-owned news and talk format stations), but again this difference was not statistically significant.
That brings us to how to effect a "progressive" solution.

Step one:
Restore local and national caps on the ownership of commercial radio stations.
IOW, restrict the number of radio stations any company can own. And the obvious outcome of that would be the opportunity, most likely with government assistance, that those radio stations which are divested by these companies will be bought by a favored minority. Obviously this requires a change in the law.

Step two:
Ensure greater local accountability over radio licensing.
This, of course, is all about "local needs", however one wants to define that. The proposed solution, of course, rests in government:
We recommend the following steps the FCC should take to ensure local needs are being met:

Provide a license to radio broadcasters for a term no longer than three years. Require radio broadcast licensees to regularly show that they are operating on behalf of the public interest and provide public documentation and viewing of how they are meeting these obligations.

Demand that the radio broadcast licensee announce when its license is about to expire and demonstrate how the public can participate in the process to determine whether the license should be extended. In addition, the FCC should be required to maintain a website to conduct on-line discussions and facilitate interaction with the public about licensee conduct.
Who gets to decide whether or not the broadcaster is operating on behalf of the public interest? And why, given the other media available is radio the only medium required to show it is doing so?

As for the last point, can you imagine what would be found on such a website as this study is recommending? A concerted effort, on behalf of those who would demand a different format (most likely magnified all out of proportion to their real numbers) which would be used to force change.

Step three:
Require commercial owners who fail to abide by enforceable public interest obligations to pay a fee to support public broadcasting.
Nowhere in this study, of course, other than as a collector of fees from "enforceable public interest obligations" does one find NPR mentioned. What a surprise.

Nope, only "commercial radio" is of interest here when speaking of bias. And the solution, as mentioned, is governmental, as usual:
If commercial radio broadcasters are unwilling to abide by these regulatory standards or the FCC is unable to effectively regulate in the public interest, a spectrum use fee should be levied on owners to directly support local, regional, and national public broadcasting.
Who we all know, of course, is totally unbiased [/sarcasm].

So there it is. "Problem" and "solution". The problem of course, is presented in a vacuum. The solution, as expected is vague language and government enforcement.

You can expect to see this soon, coming in a House bill and most likely written by the same people who published this study. Just hide and watch.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Exactly what about this report is "progressive" ?
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
I loked at their stats for KGO-AM in SF which they say has 0.25 hrs of conservative content, and 3 hrs of progressive content (if I am reading their list correctly). I presume this is per day (weekday). If so I wonder who they are counting as conservative and progressive.
The weekday (political) talk programing is Ronn Owens (a moderate Democrat) (3hrs), Pete Wilson (a moderate Democrat) (2hrs), Gene Burns (a libertarian) (3hrs), Bernie Ward (left-wing Democrat) (3hrs) and Ray Taliaferro (a left-wing Democrat) (4hrs). The .25 hrs consevative might be the Paul Harvey commentary.

Both Ray and Bernie should certainly be counted as ’progressives’ (that would make 7 hours, not 3) and the others don’t seem to be included. This leads me to wonder what they leave out in their analysis of other stations.

I have not had a chance to read the report yet (work beckons), so perhaps it is clarified in there.
Written By: Anonymous
URL: http://
It’s funny, but the political imbalance on college campuses is even more pronounced than it is for radio. Gee, I wonder why the left doesn’t feel that is a problem?

Actually, the fact that college campus hiring is less open to market forces as opposed to radio, is supposed to mean we would be more likely to intervene in that matter as opposed to commerical radio. Right?

Hmmm...its a puzzler (for the brain dead.)
Written By: Rich Horton
Sure, meanwhile let’s regulate the New York Times, CNN, NBC, colleges. I’ve noticed they all lean left.

This is why it’s so hard for me to vote Dem, despite that I agree with a fair amount of their agenda; they have fewer compunctions about abusing government power to achieve political ends. In 6 years of controlling both elected branches, the Repubs never dreamed of regulating the media to make them more politically agreeable.
Written By: TallDave
If we include televison (also travels over the airways) and newspapers (delivered over public roads) we could be on to something.

Written By: MarkD
URL: http://
Oh and Drudge has this under the headline "Reporters give Dems money over Republicans 9 to 1!"

There’s our fair and balanced media. And Dems have the gall to complain about Fox News. No wonder; it’s the one media outlet not in their pocket.
Written By: TallDave
From Neal Boortz’s web site, about the Center for American Progress:

"The man running this outfit is none other than John Podesta, the former Chief of Staff for Bill Clinton"

This pretty much guaranteed an unbiased, rational and objective viewpoint, didn’t it?

The collectivist twits already have PBS, NPR, (not to mention See-BS, ABC, NBC, CNN, the New York Times, the LA Times, virtually every world-wide news source including AP, Al-Reuters, etc.), plus the vast unelected army of dot-gov bureaucrats, all putting their socialist slant on what they report (and possibly more importantly, what they choose to NOT report) and they’re STILL not happy that independent voices are being heard.

Written By: blackwing1
URL: http://
This is the Title IX case for the radio media. What’s likely to happen is what happened to amateur sports under Title IX. When women did not show enough interest in high school and college sports to match the men, institutions started cutting mens program so that the end result was equal. In the end fewer people who wanted to participate in sports got to.

In radio, when liberals don’t support all the new liberal talk show and the liberal talk shows start going under, the government will start cutting conservative shows to make the outcome equal. And like in sports, fewer people who want to listen to talk radio, will be able to.
Written By: Doug Purdie
URL: http://
"This, of course, is all about "local needs", however one wants to define that."

Local needs are defined by, of course, the usual groups of concerned and caring citizens who point out these needs, usually by holding demonstrations and press conferrences protesting the unfairness, racism, etc., of the offending extreme-right-wing offender.

"Our data indicate that minority-owned stations are less likely than non-minority-owned stations to air the conservative programming in our sample..."

Another reason to promote minority ownership. As Doug Purdie says, the goal seems to be to shut down conservative programming. Counterbalancing it with progressive programming would be nice, but they know that nobody wants to listen to it, although they won’t admit it.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
While talk radio focuses on emotion and simplifications, often caricaturing opponents rather than advancing the political discourse, if it’s what people listen to and what gets ratings, then I don’t think government should be trying to butt in. It’s like yellow journalism — emotion sells. I’ll criticize talk radio but oppose attempts to try to force a "fair" balance. After all, does that mean making time for communists, fascists, racists, and all other ideologies not represented?

More troubling, though, is the way CNN, FOX, MSNBC and others have moved towards sensationalism over substance in reporting the news. At least with talk radio you know you’re getting emotion-driven rhetoric designed to hook listeners in. The news stations pretend that they are doing serious work. At times they do — CNN’s had some great special reports — but too often it’s talking heads yelling at/past each other and not enough dialogue, listening, and discussion. But reason is boring. Better to get the extremists yelling at each other, calling each other ’whack jobs’ and things like that. That gets ratings.

But complain as I will about any of that, having government policy try to ’fix’ it would be worse.
Written By: Scott Erb
Better to get the extremists yelling at each other, calling each other ’whack jobs’ and things like that.
Nice little dig at McQ there Scott. Personally, I wouldn’t label McQ an extremist, but whatever floats your boat...
Written By: twizz
URL: http://
Like I’ve said before. The radio issue is in no small part connected to liberal dominance of TV. And not just news TV, but other shows as well. If conservatives found a more friendly medium in TV, they would listen to less radio. The liberals would conversely watch less TV and listen to more radio.
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
Nice little dig at McQ there Scott. Personally, I wouldn’t label McQ an extremist, but whatever floats your boat...
Hmmm, I actually consider McQ’s insights valuable and not extremist, even if he tends to get emotional and take things personally. But perhaps that’s intentional — if emotion drives ratings, it probably drives blog hits too.
Written By: Scott Erb
Here’s a crazy idea: In the spirit of compromise and willingness to assuage the fears of the whack-jobs, what if these evil corporations set aside a number of HD channels as sort of a "public access" thing? Set up an industry group to manage "whack-job radio" and just accept mp3 files, cds, cassette tapes, reel-to-reel — whatever — from the teeming masses of eager-beaver progressives who want to make their voices heard. Slap the programming together, and let it ride like a hobo on the express train of success. With "whack-job radio" relagated to HD3, the rest of us won’t have our Dennis Miller pre-empted by Randy Rhoads.

In exchange, the FCC relaxes guidelines and enforcement (i.e. an accidental "f-bomb" doesn’t cost $250K anymore.)
Written By: Ronnie Gipper
From the report:
Although talk radio audiences tend to be more male, middle-aged, and conservative, research by Pew indicates that this audience is not monolithic— 43 percent of regular talk radio listeners identify as conservative, while 23 percent identify as liberal and 30 percent as moderate. 16 The ideological breakdown of the country as a whole during this same period was very similar—36 percent conservative, 21 percent liberal, and 35 percent moderate.
Notice how their breakdown of "Political Talk Radio Programming" (that’s the 91% - 9% conservative/progressive comparison) doesn’t include "moderate." So how do you suppose they classified hosts with a more moderate slant?

Also, they leave out something that I think may play a part in the numbers: The stigma that AM radio is for hayseeds. Honestly, does your run-of-the-mill "Democracy Now"-listening, birkenstock-wearing, burning-man-going progressive view AM radio as a potential source of entertainment? I think not. No more than they would consider CB radio a viable alternative to text messaging.
Written By: Ronnie Gipper
TallDave wrote:
"Oh and Drudge has this under the headline "Reporters give Dems money over Republicans 9 to 1!""

As posted in another thread here:

Some facts about campaign contributions coming out of the media:
There are polls going back decades on how journalists vote and/or identify:
(overwhelmingly liberal and/or Democrat)
And the money coming from them goes largly to Democrats:
14% Republican, 61% Democrat over a several year period.

However, news organizations are owned by (nasty evil rightwing) corporations.
The money coming out of the corporations goes:
Look at Time Warner (CNN) (77% Democrat), Viacom (CBS) (81%, Democrat), Walt Disney (ABC) (71% Democrat), General Electric/Vivendi (NBC) (75% Democrat). Of course there is the ever reliable right wing News Corp (FOX) (oops... 74% Democrat).
If you take the time to follow back the available complete election cycles the trend holds, most of the money coming out of these corporations goes to Democrats, with the exception of News Corp which switches back and forth (for example, in 2002 71% went to Republicans).

Similarly with the owners, CEO’s presidents etc, most donate primarily to Democrats:
Les Moonves
Viacom Co-President & Co-COO
$1,000 Republican $26,950 Democrat $7,500 special interest total: $35,450
$2000 to Democrats
Richard Parsons
Time Warner chairman, ceo $119,750* Republican $12,000 Democrat $73,000 special interest total: $204,750

Robert Pittman
AOL Time-Warner COO
10’s of thousands to Dems.

Ted Turner
media mogul
AOL Time Warner/Vice Chairman
$26,750 Republican $162,350 Democrat $1,000 Reform $115,624 special interest
total: $305,724

Michael Eisner
Disney ceo
$38,000 Republican $152,357 Democrat $88,000 special interest total: $278,357

Robert Iger
Disney president
$17,000 Republican $54,000 Democrat $33,000 special interest total: $104,000

Jeffrey Immelt
GE, chairman and ceo
$16,250 Republican $5,250 Democrat $58,024 special interest total: $79,524

Rupert Murdoch
News Corporation chairman, ceo
$157,644* Republican $80,500* Democrat $45,394 special interest total: $283,538 * includes soft-money donations
Roger Ailes
FOX News chairman, ceo
$1,500 Republican $5,250 special interest total: $6,750
(no donations in eight years)
Chernin, Peter
Los Angeles, CA
News Corporation/President & COO
10’s of thousands to Dems

Note that I have not updated these numbers from when I put together a post a couple years back, so there may be some changes, and some of the names may no longer be part of the corporation.

Written By: Anonymous
URL: http://
So, are we to assume, then, that anyone who isn’t in leftie lockstep, is being sensationalist?

Why is it the ones that claimed they like "nuance" are always so simple to see through?

Written By: Bithead
While talk radio focuses on emotion and simplifications, often caricaturing opponents rather than advancing the political discourse, if it’s what people listen to and what gets ratings, then I don’t think government should be trying to butt in. It’s like yellow journalism.
Some are. Yet there are folks such as Hugh Hewitt who actually read the proposed legislation they are railing against, and offer reading footnotes (constantly referenced on-air) to what they are saying. Rush is not nearly as meticulous in his "foot-noting", but my local guy, Mike Rosen is. The point is Scott, that there will always be the Michael Savages and Randy Rhodes around, but they are the outliers. To focus on them as representative of the whole side does disservice to your argument. And only when the majority of what-ever side starts embracing, or reflexively defending, the positions of those outliers, will that argument be valid.
Written By: bains
URL: http://
More troubling, though, is the way CNN, FOX, MSNBC and others have moved towards sensationalism over substance in reporting the news. At least with talk radio you know you’re getting...
But with this I totally agree. When big events occur I constantly switch between CNN and FNC. Most glaring example of what you’re alleging is the "French Quarter" coverage of Katrina. Both networks failed miserably in presenting dispassionate coverage in place of wailing compassion extrapolated from exaggerated rumors.
Written By: bains
URL: http://
Hmmm...if this crap passes, satellite could get a whole new shot in the arm. Limbaugh, Hannity probably have fans who will pay to listen if it ever comes to that.

Of course, the real thing to do is have a group of GOP senators have a press conference about this where they note that they plan to use this legislation against the NYTimes, the Alphabet networks, PBS and NPR.....

Or better yet, just say nothing. Let it pass. One day the Dems will lose power. Once that happens, divest the above mentioned under this law. Guarantee you the Dems will screech about getting this repealed ASAP. And if it harms the Sulzbergers and their ilk down the road, it’s worth it. Gotta play the long game with those who seek to destroy our rights. Turnabout is not a fair play, it’s the BEST play
Written By: shark
URL: http://
That’s a damn fine set of links Anon. Thanks for sharing.
Written By: TallDave
Hmmm...if this crap passes, satellite could get a whole new shot in the arm
Or a shot to the back of the head. Can you imagine the furor that would arise if all the talk radio hosts moved to a medium NOT controlled by the FCC?
Written By: meagain
URL: http://
Bains — I’ll accept your word on the variety of hosts. I tend to only now and then catch talk radio, and then it’s usually Hannity or Rush (and I have heard Savage) and they are clearly doing an entertainment gig focused on emotional appeal. And hey, if they get the audience and the advertisers, than congrats to them. I can always go over to NPR :-)
Written By: Scott Erb
You are welcome TallDave.
It really tends to put a damper in leftist myths about it not mattering if reporters are liberal/Democrat, because they work for "corporations" (which are inherently ’right-wing’, of course, so when facts like most of the money coming out of those associated with the corporations (including owners and officers) is directed to Democrats the responses can be amusing, though none here as I have seen elsewhere). It should probably be updated with the most current stats, however.
Written By: Anonymous
URL: http://
Does this mean the MSM will have to drift away from their 95% liberal (ie, reactionary) stances?

Oh, sure...I’m sure they can get a David Duke, Pat Robertson, Pat Buchannan, or some such, for the "counter opinion".

Written By: Sharpshooter
URL: http://
Sctt Erb:

"if emotion drives ratings, it probably drives blog hits too."

Such as DU, Markos....?
Written By: Sharpshooter
URL: http://
Sharpshooter: I don’t read those blogs, but I would not be surprised if they were emotion-driven too. It does seem like the left is starting to mirror the right in tactics and tone.
Written By: Scott Erb
"the left is starting to mirror the right in tactics and tone"

"starting"?? Where have you been for the last 40 years? Evidently not in the same Amerika that the rest of us have.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://

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