Zapple Doctrine Disregarded & Discarded

It is very disappointing to see how easily it now is to use the airwaves of radio and television broadcasting for advancing political agendas - as long as you have enough money, the power of the media goes to the highest bidder.  Any sense of fair play or balanced point of view has been eliminated, although, the general public is largely unaware. If it is on TV, it must be credible and if a single message is on TV a lot, it must be the truth.

My dad is somewhere, shaking his head in disappointment - he and a small group of smart and ethical politicians (Republicans and Democrats) understood, from the beginning, the tremendous power of the media. They took direct steps to insure that all points of view would be allowed equal access to the "public's" airwaves. This is why, in part, the Public Broadcasting System came into being and why public financing, with a monetary cap, of political campaigns was pushed so hard at the same time.

Senator Pastore (RI), and my father, Nicholas Zapple, Senate Communications Counsel and many other politicians and staffers knew that if special interests were allowed to buy control of radio and television broadcasting, that minority points of view, including new ideas, advancements in technology and progressive thought, would lose out to the established, generally conservative, political forces. When one group is in power, new ideas or change, are discouraged.

The founders of the United States embraced change because they  had fled from social and political structures in Europe that were mired in strict class systems and monarchies that held onto centuries of traditions - refusing change or new ideas.

Without romanticizing, too much, the thinking of the politicians and senior staff that were faced with the task of creating a legal structure that would maintain access and promote the freedom of the airwaves - for the general good and education of all citizens - it is revealing that they chose first to focus on ways to decouple money from exclusive access to the airwaves.

Being politicians, they all recognized the power of direct advertising - and fully understood the enormous influencing power of radio and television. By championing public financing of political campaigns, they could limit the amount of money that was allowed to be spent on campaigning - thus limiting the amount of money that could be earned by broadcasters and their overall interest.

The second part of the equation was to create policies that required the same amount of airtime be given to each candidate, or political agenda - so that if a broadcaster favored a political point of view they would be required by law to give equal time to opposing points of view.

Limiting the amount of money allowed in the campaigning process to be spent on TV and Radio time - and laws requiring a balance of political thoughts. This was the thinking on how to guarantee that special interests or wealthy individuals (or corporations) would not be able to hijack the publicly owned airwaves.

Public financing of political campaigns has proven to be a political minefield. Although supported by many Republicans and Democrats, the legal application of public financing of elections varies greatly from state to state, and overall does not have the effectiveness that its supporters envisioned.  

The Fairness Doctrine, first enacted in 1949, has been attacked and weakened over the years until in 1987 it was left as a shell of the original legislation, with the Zapple Doctrine (added in 1970 and so named in my father's honor because of his unyielding belief and vocal advocacy of the importance of equal time being guaranteed to all political points of view) as the only enforceable portion of the law left to provide equal access protection for varying political points of view.

It is difficult to fight big money, and with the polarized political scene in Washington today, it has proven impossible to hold back those wealthy interests any longer.

My family is proud that we are so directly connected to such fair minded thinking that for 44 years benefited our entire nation.

 


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