The Fairness Doctrine stopped being enforced in the mid-1980's when then FCC Chair Mark Fowler expressed the belief that the view of broadcasters as community trustees should be replaced with the view of broadcasters as marketplace participants. In other words, Fowler advocated the position that content being broadcast on the airwaves should be left to the "free-market". Fowler would also argue, as does Martha Zoller, that the Fairness Doctrine limited free speech by giving the government control over a station's editorial content. Zoller states:
We must protect the free market everywhere it is being assaulted, and talk radio is a free speech market that should be left alone by regulation.
We must remember when discussing this issue, that the airwaves belong to the public and that broadcasters should serve the public interest. Since the end of the Fairness Doctrine we have seen continued concentration of the media into the hands of just a few companies. Though some would argue that we have more channels now with the existence of cable, I am reminded of Senator Byron Dorgan's observation that this is like many voices coming from the same ventriloquist. We have seen opinion and viewpoints become more limited on the airwaves, not expanded since things have been turned over to the "free-market". You can see this firsthand in the coverage in the lead-up to the Iraq War and in the "post-9/11 world" where dissenting opinion was suppressed. Zoller further claims in her article:
The marketplace doesn’t want liberal talk radio. There have been some shows that have done well, but the numbers are not in their favor. This year at the Talkers New Media Seminar, there were more liberal/progressive/independent hosts represented, but the bread and butter still goes to conservative talk because conservatives are so under-represented in the rest of the media market.
When we discuss topics such as the public airwaves, which are owned by the public and should serve in the interest of the public, it is not productive to speak about such topics as "products" subjected to the "marketplace". Public forums for debate, discussion, and the expansion of ideas are fundamental to democracy and speaking about different viewpoints as if we are choosing between brands of soda pop, is grossly missing the point. Simply stating that the public "doesn't want" the other view is no excuse for its suppression and in a society that benefits from debating all viewpoints, it is completely necessary to further open up the level of discourse.
Media consolidation has hurt democracy and it is not productive to think about the issue in terms of a "liberal" or a "conservative" media, but rather recognize that our media outlets are largely stenographers to power. Our media outlets produce sanitized infotainment that passes as news and keeps advertisers coming back for more. Perhaps it is more beneficial to look at this issue of "Fairness" through the eyes of a 1969 Supreme Court decision that upheld the Fairness Doctrine:
A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a...frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the Government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others.... It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.
— U.S. Supreme Court, upholding the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 1969