The Fairness Doctrine was a rule abandoned in 1987 that required broadcasters to give equal time to opposing points of view. While the stated goal was to expand discourse in the name of the “public interest,” the policy trampled all over basic property and First Amendment rights. It has been pushed in recent years primarily as a means of silencing prominent talk show hosts that don’t share the same political views as the politicians in charge.
Despite President Obama’s statements in opposition to reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine (at least on broadcasters), it appears his regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, holds a different take when it comes to the Internet. An uncovered clip from a radio program has found Sunstein declaring:
“Sites from one point of view agree to provide links to other sites so if you are reading a conservative magazine they would provide a link to a liberal site and vice versa…If we could get voluntary arrangements in that direction it would be great. …But the word ‘voluntary’ is a little complicated. Sometimes people don’t do what’s best for our society… And the idea would be to have a legal mandate as the last resort and to make sure it’s as neutral as possible…”
This in effect would entail heavy regulation and enforcement of all content on the Internet, and would be a gross violation of property and First Amendment rights. And why should anyone blindly assume government bureaucrats are neutral enforcers? In effect, this is the Fairness Doctrine for the Internet.
The new push for Net Neutrality centers on subjecting Internet access to Title II of the Communications Act, thereby applying a vague rule preventing “discrimination” to allow the government to manage the way service providers run their networks. By simply tossing the content side of the Internet under Title II as well, one can imagine how this same rule can result in Fairness Doctrine 2.0.
Sunstein’s suggestion should come as no surprise. He recently co-authored the book Nudge, which argues that policies should be designed to “nudge” people into making better choices without full-on coercion. Sunstein says he opposes outright bans or mandates, but if you aren’t forced to read the story, someone will certainly be mandated to put it in front of you. There also appears to be quite a slippery slope (which prompted a fantastic discussion in the Cato Unbound blog last month) from Sunstein’s oxymoronic term “libertarian paternalism” (or “nudging”) to hard paternalism with heavy government involvement.
Yet, for posterity’s sake, here is an absurdly false editorial from Free Press on Huffington Post about why all of Congress supports Net Neutrality. And here is a more reasoned post about why Congress largely opposes it. Now, I think Free Press should be “nudged” into displaying my article about why Net Neutrality is a government takeover. And if they don’t maybe Cass Sunstein can help mandate it.