Broadcasting, the Reluctant Dragon: Will the First Amendment Right of Access end the Suppressing of Controversial Ideas?

The scope of this article will be limited to one aspect of electronic media programming-the extent to which the public is and should be exposed to an accurate cross section of public opinion and a broad range of controversial ideas. Many people, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), have acknowledged that a desirable goal for the broadcast media, particularly television, is to provide a marketplace for controversial ideas. Part II of this article will identify the principal reasons why that goal has not been achieved. Part III will examine the fairness doctrine, the antecedents of which have been traced back to 1929. While generally requiring that a broadcast licensee’s programming cover issues of public importance in a manner fairly presenting conflicting points of view, the broad discretion given to licensees in applying the doctrine has significantly lessened its impact. Moreover, a raging debate continues over whether the effect of the fairness doctrine has been more to suppress than to enhance the expression of controversial ideas. Part IV will describe a new legal doctrine – the first amendment right of access – which has recently been applied to the broadcast media, and whose effect may be to thrust controversial programming upon all electronic media. Finally, Part V will discuss additional ways to encourage the broadcasting of controversial ideas.