LOOK FOR MORE than a few tinny endorsements of fairness, evenhandedness, democratic tradition and probably the American Way this week as members of the House vote on a bill to convert the grossly misnamed "fairness doctrine" from a regulation to a law controlling the broadcasting of ideas. Democrats in particular are having a grand time sounding off about the necessity to air all conflicting views on issues of public importance -- and getting some licks in against one of their favorite Reagan administration targets: "deregulation," as invariably and deliberately ill-defined by its attackers. There are enough of these lawmakers around to echo the easy "aye" that probably only a veto and failure to override can stop this damaging restriction of free, independent -- and genuinely fair -- broadcast journalism.
The measure would codify the old "fairness" rule under which the Federal Communications Commission had been requiring broadcasters to air opposing views on issues of public importance that they choose to cover. The FCC had decided -- on solid grounds -- that this ruling could and should be modified or repealed. The courts have said that it was within the FCC's power to do this -- and that is what prompted the effort in Congress to ratify and codify the doctrine. It would be bad law.
Originally the idea of the legislation was to make sure that America's limited broadcasting frequencies did not close ranks and thereby become a serious curb on free speech. But today those frequencies are a lot more frequent, and an ample supply of electronic outlets exists for the dissemination of the full range of views on any issue. This is not to say that the presentation of conflicting views is either bad or unnecessary; it is a time-honored policy of good journalism, broadly accepted by the media. But government control of what ideas may or may not be aired is not the sort of thing most thinking Americans should accept all that easily.
Our view, though coming from an organization with a direct interest in broadcasting, stems from a belief that the rule is inimical to the interests of sound journalism. Free, independent and fair communication of points of view would be improved not by engraving stipulations into law, but by rejecting this bill.