From after World War II the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforced as policy (fairness doctrine), which required broadcasters to discuss controversial matters of public interest and give contrasting views on the matter. For example in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC the supreme court ruled that the FCC could require broadcasters to give individuals free air time to respond to personal on-air attacks.

In the 1980s the FCC stopped enforcing parts of the FC and the policy was abolished in 1987. According to Wikipedia:

The demise of this FCC rule has been considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States.

According to Pew Research Center supporters of Republicans and Democrats are more polarized than at the beginning of the 1990s. They summarize this in this graphic:

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What is the evidence that the abolishment of the fairness doctrine (FC) led to more political polarization in the US? Are there for example any statistics, scientific papers, etc. which show that broadcasters are more one-side since the abolishment of the FC?

Are or were there similar policies in other American or European countries?

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    Wikipedia isn't saying that, it's citing E. Patterson, Thomas. "The News Media: Communicating Political Images." and Rendall, Steve "The Fairness Doctrine: How We Lost it, and Why We Need it Back". Perhaps look there for your answers
    – Caleth
    Oct 10, 2018 at 9:43

5 Answers 5


There is a widespread misunderstanding of what the fairness doctrine is actually about. It may also be said that it is something that is brought out as an excuse to browbeat either one side or the other.

The myth is that the fairness doctrine means that equal time is given to all sides of the issue. This is not true neither in the text nor the actual application of the rule historically.

In truth the doctrine stated that in order to have a broadcasting license, the station had to present items of public interest and make an effort to present opposing view points and that it was up to the station management what those items were, how it is presented and for how much time. In practice this meant some program late at night and waiting for any person to come off the street and present any view point not connected to the original program. Normal programming was not affected nor any effort was needed to present balanced view points. For example, the doctrine did not mean 1 hour for Liberals and immediately 1 hour for conservatives.

The regulation phrase: "afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of public importance."

Argument that the fairness doctrine would not be fair from the Heritage Foundation Why the Fairness Doctrine is anything but fair

It would be up to the bureaucrats to determine what is "unbalanced" programming leading to investigations which would make broadcaster shy away from anything controversial. Second, the internet and social media already presents a wide platform to showcase many points of view. Why would there be a need for a police force to monitor broadcasters? How could you make Netflix show balanced movies?

Argument that the fairness doctrine is needed from the Boston Globe Want to Stop Fake News, Reinstate the fairness doctrine

Not only should the fairness doctrine be reinstated, it already has and should be stronger. This comes from the fallout of the 2016 facebook controversy. There already is a Congressional tide to put stronger regulations on Facebook. Congress should go all the way and regulate all media including TV, radio, and podcasts.

With this background, the answer to your question is that the fairness doctrine as it was in 1983 and before is irrelevant to the polarized political atmosphere of todays world. The large availability of media has contributed to the ability of people to be less homogenized in their thinking. There is a flavor for everyone.

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    @redleo85 there will be no studies since the premise of the question is incorrect. That is what my answer says, there is no connection between the polarization and the fairness doctrine. Its like asking is there a study about the increase of jay-walking since the ban of high ethanol in summer? Oct 9, 2018 at 17:17
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    the premise of the question is just fine, unless you are implying that there is no polarization.
    – redleo85
    Oct 9, 2018 at 17:33
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    @FrankCedeno - Can you provide sources/links for the two positions you cited?
    – Bobson
    Oct 9, 2018 at 18:04
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    @bobson Done with adding links Oct 10, 2018 at 12:56
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    @Frank Premise 1: The fairness doctrine has been abolished. Premise 2: Political polarization has increased. Hypothesis: Abolishing the fairness doctrine contributed to political polarization. Question: Is there evidence for the hypothesis?
    – redleo85
    Oct 10, 2018 at 13:06

There's no way to tell, because a lot of other things have changed in that time period. Even if broadcasters are more one-sided, there's a larger number of broadcasters, allowing greater market segmentation and content customization than when 4 major network's nightly broadcasts were "the news". Adding YouTube and other online offerings into the mix, there's now thousands of sources, so it's easier than ever to listen only to people who agree with you.

It's not just the fairness doctrine that changed either. Fin-Syn was struck down, so content profitability became a concern of the outlet, and more targeted ads are more profitable. The 1996 telcom act permitted concentrated and non-local ownership of media outlets, which let national groups (ex: clear channel, tribune, sinclair) invest in local media outlets with the sole intention of financial profits, turning news into a commodity. Bloggers and tweeters are not subject to traditional editorial review or worried about an unbiased perception of the outlet in the same fashion that a local outlet that reached only slightly more conservatives than democrats would.

In short, there's a lot of factors that contribute to polarization. While it's hard to argue that dropping the fairness doctrine reduced political polarization, and we can cite many then/now statistics, like most topics of media science it's impossible to demonstrate culpability due to the dynamic system of interdependent and overlapping effects and myriad confounding variables.


This article gives 14 reasons why political polarization has increased. The FCC fairness rule is not mentioned directly, but "media ghettos" are given as one of the reasons.


Are or were there similar policies in other American or European countries?

In Canada, theoretically (i.e. in law), you're not supposed to broadcast false or misleading news (reference).

I don't know to what extent that's policed, or self-policed (you can also complain to each broadcaster, and the CBC has an ombudsman you can complain to).

There's a public broadcaster (the CBC).

Allegedly most Canadians consider most Canadian news (the CBC, CTV, and others) to be "fair" and "balanced".


Wikipedia is not an authority on anything. Wikipedia is not a standard and cannot answer all questions. Wikipedia is edited by individuals in the public domain. Just people with ideas. You can and should ask for the reasoning which lead to the conclusion to publish the quoted sentence.

The quote from the Wikipedia article (not linked at the question), if true, implies that people are influenced to or not to perform actions solely based on what media is produced and consumed. If untrue, implies that people can actually think for themselves, in spite of consuming or not consuming a wide range of media. Each of the two possible selections being an alarming fact and proffers a substantial market for political opportunity and opportunists; for status quo and opposition to status quo. Political parties adapt to the terrain to get their message to their current and would-be constituents In general, see Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by by Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman (2002).

Some people do not watch television or listen to public or private broadcasting; thus no FCC policy or propaganda is consumed by them. Some people consume left, right, center, and other popularly characterized political factions; not for instructions, but to be abreast of the goings-on of the various political factions' productions and activities.

The term "party polarization" does not make sense. If an individual did not want to perform polarizing activities the first decision made must be to not join a single political party, or any other political group. An individual does not need a "party" to acquire, maintain and exert political power. Joining a political party is in fact an act of specific political "polarization".

No, the FCC does not substantially influence political polarization by administrative policy. Political parties are already polarized. The FCC has not restricted people from turning their radio stations from NPR to Rush Limbaugh's program, and back and forth, before turning the chatter box off altogether. None of the chatter changes the politics of the people. Some just never turn their station to another channel and never turn the noise off. Some never turn the propaganda on in the first place.

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    Re "...are already polarized": The Q. seems to be not so much about the existence of polarization, as it is about the changing degree of polarization between parties over time, which we might liken to the varying strength of a magnetic field. Please clarify as to whether you'd say the Dems & Reps are like either the N & S pole of a fixed permanent bar magnet, or else like the poles of an electromagnet controlled by a rheostat dial.
    – agc
    Oct 10, 2018 at 3:44
  • @agc Joining or adopting the ideology of any political group is a polarizing act. From perspective here there is no difference between the Democratic party and the Republican party as to actual long-term U.S. policy and interests. Other people might have a different perspective. The third paragraph could include greater detail to extend the concept introduced in the second paragraph; specifically, if we make the calculation that party "polarization" exists and we can influence and exploit that presumed division, we produce propaganda to control the dialectic, or "dial", on all "sides". Oct 10, 2018 at 3:47
  • @agc Importantly, the question title uses the term "political polarization", which occurs within the single "party" i.e. factions. The text of the question uses the term "party polarization", which would necessarily be a real concern where "political polarization", or vying for dominance within the group, occurs within the single party. The serious underlying question is whether we can concretely conclude that any broadcast can "polarize" groups beyond the degree they were (expected to be) "polarized" before producing or consuming media; or before and after joining a political party. Oct 10, 2018 at 4:24
  • Comments deleted. Please try to stay on-topic.
    – Philipp
    Oct 11, 2018 at 10:39

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