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House votes to prevent Fairness Doctrine revival

By Courtney Holliday
First Amendment Center Online intern
07.02.07

The House of Representatives voted June 28 to prevent the Federal Communication Commission from reviving the Fairness Doctrine.

Voting 309-115, House members added an amendment prohibiting the FCC from using funds to implement the Fairness Doctrine to an appropriations bill that passed for the upcoming fiscal year.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., sponsored the amendment, which was cosponsored by Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, after some Senate Democrats publicly endorsed the doctrine’s revival.

Pence told The Hollywood Reporter that the amendment protected broadcasters from interference from the government.

“In a free market, fairness should be determined based upon equal opportunity, not equal results. As some voices are calling for Congress to enforce their idea of ‘fairness’ upon the American people, it would be good for us to proceed with caution whenever some would achieve their ‘fairness’ by limiting the freedom of others,” he was quoted as saying in the June 29 Hollywood Reporter article.

The FCC established the Fairness Doctrine in 1949 to ensure that broadcasters could not use their stations to advocate one point of view and would have to balance opinions aired on issues of public importance. The Supreme Court upheld the doctrine in 1969 in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, but in 1987 the FCC declared the doctrine unconstitutional and abolished it.

Attempts to reinstate the doctrine into law were vetoed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Broadcasting and Cable magazine reported June 27 that Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., had advocated reviving the Fairness Doctrine in a radio interview on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” several months ago after denouncing conservative talk radio.

“[Conservatives have been able to] squeeze down and squeeze out opinion of opposing views. I think it has been a very important transition in the imbalance of our public dialog,” Kerry was quoted as saying in the interview.

A June 28 TV Week article reported that a Kerry aide said the senator was not currently sponsoring legislation on the doctrine. However, TV Week reported that other lawmakers may be pursuing the doctrine’s revival further. An aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was quoted as saying that although Feinstein had not proposed legislation, her staff was studying potential changes to current communications law “to ensure there is a degree of fairness.”

TV Week also mentioned that House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., and committee member Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, had discussed holding hearings.

Pence told TV Week that the amendment’s passage should send a “deafening message” that Congress would not support reviving the doctrine, which Republicans have said is outdated.

“As kids say, this doctrine is so 20th century,” Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., was quoted as saying in TV Week.

On June 29 Pence introduced the Broadcasters Freedom Act, which had more than 100 co-sponsors, as a stand-alone bill solely devoted to stopping the Fairness Doctrine, because the recently passed amendment only applies through 2008. Also on June 29, Republican Sens. Norm Coleman, Minn., John McCain, Ariz., and John Thune, S.D., introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act, a companion Senate bill to prevent the FCC from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. In a statement on his Web site, McCain said the Fairness Doctrine “had a chilling [e]ffect on free speech, and it is hard to imagine that the American people would support reinstating a policy where the Federal government would be required to police the airwaves to ensure differing viewpoints are offered.”

Courtney Holliday is a junior majoring in economics and public policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.


Update
Senate Democrats block anti-Fairness Doctrine measure
Republican amendment that would have prevented revival of federal rule requiring broadcasters to air opposing views on issues fails. 07.16.07

Related

Policing the First Amendment

By Nat Hentoff Push by some members of Congress to reinstate Fairness Doctrine to ensure 'diversity of views' would instead revive an enemy of free speech. 01.31.07

Revived ‘Fairness Doctrine’ would be anything but fair
By John Seigenthaler Enforced 'fairness' is unconstitutional on its face; and despite supposed influence of right-wing radio, Democrats are doing well. 07.04.07

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