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In 2007, conservative talk radio comprised 91 percent of the talk radio spectrum. It seems that hasn't changed much, and it may be getting worse; four progressive talk stations have been shut down just since the 2012 election.

Imagine that the great talk radio empires of the right are protected by vast networks of castles with moats. Right wing talkers in their boundless hordes man the parapets, shouting down to the populace how conservative political principles are vastly superior to anything espoused by those few voices on the left. And any progressive talk radio voice may be hushed simply by arranging schedule to stifle their message.

In essence, that's what we see in the talk radio environment. In the absence of any sort of fairness doctrine (which was throttled during the Reagan administration, and the last vestiges of which were eliminated just last year), this circumstance of right wing dominance is perpetuated around the clock, week after week, year after year.

But there is a law still on the books, narrowly drawn and with specific purpose, that seeks not cultural fairness, but electoral fairness for a specific period (sixty days) just prior to any electoral contest. Unlike the moribund and in some quarters controversial Fairness Doctrine, the Zapple Doctrine is described by the Broadcast Law Blog as "potentially [having] some vitality".

the Zapple Doctrine compelling a station to provide time to the supporters of one candidate if the station provides time to the supporters of another candidate in a political race, has never specifically been abolished...  Zapple, also known as "quasi-equal opportunities", has been argued in various recent controversies, including in connection with the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry, when Kerry supporters claimed that they should get equal time to respond should certain television stations air the anti-Kerry Swift Boat "documentary."  We have written about Zapple many times (see, for instance, here, in connection with the Citizens United decision).  What would be beneficial to broadcasters would be a determination as to whether Zapple has any remaining vitality, as some have felt that this doctrine is justified independent of the Fairness Doctrine.

  —Broadcast LAW BLOG, August 23, 2011

Yet the Zapple Doctrine is so little known among the general public, it is one of just half a dozen topics in the known universe that doesn't yet have a Wikipedia entry.

Sue Wilson of the Media Action Center has written extensively about the Zapple Doctrine. Her Daily Kos diaries deserve more attention than they have received.

The Media Action Center has sought to raise awareness, and to invoke the Zapple Doctrine for elections in 2012. Their efforts have been rebuffed by the FCC. According to Chief of the FCC's Political Bureau, Mark Berlin, it is as if the castles and moats don't exist unless candidates and their supporters lay siege:

For the Zapple Doctrine to be invoked, the supporters of the opposing candidate would have to specifically ask the station for air time.  If the station refused, the supporters could then appeal to the FCC, but no such Zapple complaint has been made in at least eight years.  Therefore, there was no violation of the Zapple Doctrine by the stations here, and even if there were, that would not be a basis for the denial of a license renewal, since programming has nothing to do with licensing in the first place.

  —FCC Political Bureau via Media Action Center

In sending this reply, the FCC is telegraphing a very obvious message to the radio networks it is chartered to regulate: you don't need to worry about this. The argument that "programming has nothing to do with licensing" is outrageous and specious. Would the FCC grant a license to a radio station that (for example) openly advocated genocide? I think not.

What leverage, then, does the FCC reserve to enforce such congressionally-mandated requirements? In the aftermath of Citizens United, if the FCC seriously considered issuing mere fines as a mechanism to enforce the Zapple Doctrine, media empires with indirect access to vast millions of dollars in campaign donations may simply consider such fines a cost of doing (their right wing) business.

Ultimately, as this FCC response so clearly indicates, whether the Zapple Doctrine is successfully invoked will be a political decision. Talk radio hosts will argue that they qualify for certain exceptions to the doctrine. According to Talkers, exemption "is not always a slam dunk." Yet the right wing talk shows are more likely to succeed in shutting out progressive voices if the FCC's decision is allowed to be made in Mitt Romney's behind-the-scenes "quiet rooms".

It is time for all of us to familiarize ourselves with the Media Action Center, and with the Zapple Doctrine, and we must do so well in advance of the next congressional election. To ignore this vital tool for electoral fairness is to allow right wing talkers to once again go unchallenged. And, perhaps, to allow conservatives to once again retain control of the U.S. Congress.

The Zapple Doctrine "potentially has some vitality". Whether that comes to fruition depends upon me, and upon you!

Please do whatever you can to support the work and goals of the Media Action Center. Democracy itself is at stake in this cause.




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Comment Preferences

  •  Richard - a typo maybe? (0+ / 0-)

    "...in Mitt Romney's behind the scenes quiet rooms".

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 10:47:39 AM PST

  •  Wikipedia (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wilderness voice

    "it is one of just half a dozen topics in the known universe that doesn't yet have a Wikipedia entry."

    Cute. But surely there are some netizens here who know how to add Wikipedia entries. (I know how to edit, but I'm not sure I know how to add.) Why not take this on?

  •  Me parece una buena idea (0+ / 0-)

    So Spanish language DJ's that organize immigration protests should have to give equal time to Minutemen, right?

  •  Very uphill battle on this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wisper

    I don't see it working and it could cause a ripple in terms people wanting an extension to online media as well. Plus, with the many platforms and channels for consumers to get news and information, the FCC will probably say this doctrine is moot.

    However, it's worth a shot only to see the FCC's ruling on it once and for all.

    •  Broadcast and Internet are two different concepts (3+ / 0-)

      I don't see the FCC applying the same rules. Their charter is specifically focused on broadcast media; online media is accessed in a different manner, and the FCC doesn't have the same sort of statutory imperatives for the Internet. Thus, "people wanting an extension to online media" would need some sort of legislative action before it might be realized, and i think that's an unlikely prospect.

      As to whether it is a "very uphill battle", i think we won't know until we try. The radio networks certainly want this doctrine to also be moot. But the FCC is supposed to regulate the radio networks, and serve the public interest. What do we see as in the public interest? We need to communicate that to the FCC.

      Thanks for the response.

      Follow me on Twitter: @denverunionguy

      by Richard Myers on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 11:54:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Should we care? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    207wickedgood

    That's a serious question.

    "Talk" radio seems to me to be aimed at a very, very specific and narrow audience.

    I haven't listened to "talk" radio since -- well, ever.

    And I'm a 59-year-old white guy.

    I'll bet that nobody under the age of 50 listens to AM radio -- period (unless it's ESPN radio).

    Frankly, I'm perfectly happy with Rush running his mouth off and giving rational people more ammunition. Why in the world would you want "balance"?

    The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it -- GB Shaw

    by kmiddle on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 11:40:24 AM PST

    •  Here's why we should care: (4+ / 0-)

      “One-hundred-thirty-eight million people commute to and from work in automobiles, where they have no access to computer or TV screens. For around a third of them, or 48 million, AM talk radio is their entertainment of choice. Of the top 10 AM talk radio shows, nine are hosted by extreme conservatives, giving the right wing a captive audience of around 40 million listeners a week—at least seven times greater than the combined audiences of Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. Talk radio’s audience dwarfs that of every other category in the news political arena, including the network news and Sunday shows, NPR’s public affairs shows and political Web sites.

      It was not preordained that all of the millions of people who identify with the Tea Party movement would believe the conservative narrative that the economic ills afflicting the middle class are the result of liberalism. But given that tens of millions of them had no alternative explanations or solutions, it is not surprising that conservative ideas and candidates are ascendant.

      ...At the outset of the Obama administration there were dozens of columns reminding progressives that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had told liberal activists of his day to “make” him initiate progressive programs by mobilizing public opinion.

      Instead, most of today’s progressives spent the last year talking to themselves while conservatives convinced millions of people that global warming is a hoax, that torture is required to keep America safe, that non-millionaires in Canada and Europe have worse health care than their American counterparts. The right wing could never have convinced 45 percent of Americans that the Democrats wanted “death panels” if their outreach was limited to Sarah Palin’s Facebook page and the three million people a night who watch Fox’s highest-rated shows.

      ...One-third of the American public are never exposed to progressive ideas or even to facts that are incompatible with the right-wing narrative.”
      (from http://www.alternet.org/... )

      And btw, I'm 43 and I DO listen to AM talk radio. Fortunately I live in Madison, WI where there is still a progressive station left.

    •  to add to andrewr9 (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AndrewR9

      RW radio does the groundwork repetition for everything the RW does.

      you probably live on one of the coasts, probably in a city. just guessing. in most parts of the US there are no free alternatives for politics while driving or working to compete with the ubiquitous RW radio blowhards and their coordinated partisan lies and propaganda.

      any significant progressive issue you might be interested in has been effected negatively and set back because the left gives RW radio a free speech free ride. any local or national progressive candidate gets either attacked from those stations or their opponents promoted.

      RW radio moves the political center to the right more than any other factor and even moreso as perceived and reported by the MSM.

      any time a dem or progressive politician or issue or reform or truth makes any headway or has a messaging success as part of the feedback process this democracy depends on (some common sense or truth gets by the MSM), highly paid PR pros in the RW think tanks devise campaigns to distract or distort it in the MSM, and it usually starts with Limbaugh and friends, where weeks and even months or lying and repetition can go by before the left even notices it.

      with all that unchallenged repetition they can also start shit - like the iraq attack. or every time they want to pass voter suppression or deregulation talk radio gets the  job started.

      that's where the swiftboating of dem politicians or appointees starts. that's where the rationalization and excuses and enabling of everything and anyone republican starts. that's where most of the global warming denial is being sold.

      that's how single payer was taken off the table during the clinton years. that's what got clarence thomas on the supreme court and turned bush and romney into 'acceptable' candidates. that's what deregulated the banks and convinced the teabaggers it would be OK to default.

      and so on. RW radio has effected every major issue negatively for liberals and will continue to make every major reform harder.

      This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and partisan lying by broadcasting sports on Limbaugh radio stations.

      by certainot on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 05:48:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wouldnt this be part of the Fairness Doctrine? (0+ / 0-)

    Which was killed in 1987 and formally written OUT of the FCC rules in 2011.

    Red Lion Broadcasting v FCC was the case that said the FCC had a right to do this but was not legally obligated to.

    The only reason this existed was because of the few television and radio networks, there was legitimate concern that a few program managers could easily control what was broadcast to the people.

    But today with the Internet, twitter, smart phones, Cable TV, Satellite Radio, email, podcasts, etc....  this concern is no longer relevant.

    People that want right-wing news and commentary have, and should have, places they can go to get it.  As is true of any other kind of content that has a discernable audience.

    Why the hell would we want a left wing radio show?  RADIO?  WTF?  What's next a chat board on Compuserve's Mosaic?  

    Or maybe we could just print out THOUSANDS of copies of day-old news that's already been on the Internet on over-sized but yet very thin pieces of dead trees with dirty smudgy ink and low-res photos and then get people to actually PAY for the privilege of reading a few of the superficially shallow stories we embed around the edges of advertisements?  Oh wait.....

    Красота спасет мир --F. Dostoevsky

    by Wisper on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 11:53:32 AM PST

    •  It is related to the Fairness Doctrine (5+ / 0-)

      but (as the linked documents indicate) the Fairness Doctrine is currently dead, while the Zapple Doctrine "has never specifically been abolished."

      There is one huge market for talk radio, and that is people commuting in their vehicles. It is, in essence, a captive audience that has only been slightly eroded by technological evolution. Whatever options people may have in their online choices, those options have barely dented the ability of broadcast media to be the primary information source of commuters.

      And during morning and afternoon drive times, commuter numbers are huge throughout the nation.

      "People that want right-wing news and commentary have, and should have, places they can go to get it."
      Of course! No one here is contemplating taking that away.

      Follow me on Twitter: @denverunionguy

      by Richard Myers on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 12:02:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Why are there so few liberal stations? (0+ / 0-)

    And why do they seem to die out?

    a little bit of this, a little bit of that

    by MWV on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 03:58:29 PM PST

    •  because they have a monopoly and they protect it (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AndrewR9, madhaus

      and because at some level they know how critical it has been to them in selling the alternate reality they depend on.

      it's got nothing to do with market forces-  does anyone really believe that 95% of americans who listen to talk radio prefer to be lied to by blowhards with the wit and wisdom of limbaugh and hannity?

      limbaugh and hannity and the rest are coordinated to sell war, deregulation, global warming denial, tax breaks for billionares, and corrupt politicians. that's worth trillions, and what the stations make from flooring and flowers and penile enhancement pills is gravy.

      This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and partisan lying by broadcasting sports on Limbaugh radio stations.

      by certainot on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 05:55:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Because progressives think (0+ / 0-)

      Its much harder to market to people with functioning brains. The crap advertisers that Beck/Rush have (buy seeds to survive the Apocalypse, get rich using the internet, buy our poorly written books) would not get any thinking person to part with their money. A right wing audience is a marketer's dream (we do whatever Rush says).

      The real reason repugs are against stem cell research : Someone may grow a spine for dems in the future

      by 207wickedgood on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 06:20:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  You don't understand the FCC (0+ / 0-)

    This doctrine and the Fairness Doctrine came at a time when radio pretty much had a monopoly on news and information. The purpose of these doctrines were to make so that there isn't an advantage in exposure due to the fact there were less channels. Since many platforms and channels are open, it can be argued that their isn't a monopoly on wide exposure through media.

    Like I said, you could try but I don't see this getting anywhere.

    In terms of the FCC they are for regulating media and not really concerned with the public at large. In addition, if you don't think that Congress and the broadcast media industry wouldn't want to apply the rules to everybody equally, you're mistaken.

  •  Thanks, Richard (0+ / 0-)

    I wasn't familiar with The Zapple Doctrine and look forward to helping to see it into fruition via the 2014 election.

    We also have petitions like this:

    http://www.change.org/...

    And fb group, Join The Fight To Flush Rush and The StopRush Project.

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