Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What Is Fairness Anyway?

It’s easy, when listening to Rush Limbaugh ranting about “Feminzis” or Rand Paul trying to wriggle out of civil rights, to get behind something like the Fairness Doctrine, which mandates equal media coverage of opposing viewpoints as a counterbalance to pundits’ opinions. Michigan State Senator Bruce Patterson, a Constitutional lawyer, has now proposed a bill requiring journalists to register with and receive approval from the “Board of Michigan Registered Reporters,” before they are allowed to broadcast their opinions.

Not only is State Senator Patterson’s legislation unfair, it also privileges the same moneyed interests presently in control. His bill is an infringement upon our Constitutionally protected right to free speech, and a form of discrimination. Journalists must pay not only an application fee, but a registration fee as well; they are also required to show proof of “good moral character” and “ethics standards acceptable to the board.” What this means is not defined, nor are the people who will make up the deciding body.

The required credential litany doesn’t end there. To be considered for approval, applicants must have a journalism degree or a degree in another relevant field, three or more years reporting experience or other relevant background, awards or recognition for their reportage, and three or more writing samples. In other words, those who did not attend college need not apply. Those who, because of arbitrary financial realities, could not attend college need not apply. Those who received a degree in art history, but feel passionately about saving the environment or ending the war, and have the tenacity to express those opinions in a blog or journal, need not apply.

Fairness is a relative term. What’s fair to me, a single-mother of two children, things like the right to healthcare or equal pay for equal work, may not be considered fair to a millionaire or to a white male with an MBA. Fairness is not about money. Just as we tell our children that they can do anything they put their minds to, so should it be in the larger society. Fairness is not where you went to college, or even if you went to college; and in the United States of America, it should be about more than groveling before some kind of council of elders. It should be about freedom: the freedom of thought, the freedom of access, and most of all, the freedom of speech.

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