Until the Reagan administration extinguished it, the doctrine required broadcasters to devote reasonable time to fairly presenting all sides of any controversial issue discussed on the air. The government decided the meaning of the italicized words.
When government regulation of the content of broadcasts began in 1927, the supposed justification was the scarcity of radio spectrum. In 1928 and 1929, when Republicans ran Washington, a New York station owned by the Socialist Party was warned to show "due regard" for others' opinions, and the government blocked the Chicago Federation of Labor's attempted purchase of a station because all stations should serve "the general public." In 1939, when Democrats ran Washington, the government conditioned renewal of one station's license on that station's promise to desist from anti-FDR editorials.
In 1969, when the Supreme Court declared the fairness doctrine constitutional, it probably did not know the Kennedy administration's use of it, as one official described it: "Our massive strategy was to use the fairness doctrine to challenge and harass the right-wing broadcasters and hope that the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue." Richard Nixon emulated this practice. In 1973, Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, a liberal, said the doctrine "has no place in our First Amendment regime" because it "enables administration after administration to toy with TV or radio."
Read the whole thing.