Friday, June 29, 2007

House Buries Fairness Doctrine

In a lopsided vote on an amendment offered by former talk radio host Mike Pence, the House of Representatives sent a message to the Senators who have recently begun talking again about the Fairness Doctrine. In a 309 to 115 vote, the issue split the Democratic caucus in half, with 113 Democrats voting for free speech. According to the Hill report:
The vote count was partly a testament to the influence that radio hosts wield in many congressional districts.

It was also a rebuke to Democratic senators and policy experts who have voiced support this week for regulating talk radio.

House Democrats argued that it was merely a Republican political stunt because there is little danger of the FCC restricting conservative radio while George W. Bush is president.

Republicans counter that they are worried about new regulations if a Democrat wins the White House in 2008.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on Tuesday that the government should revive the Fairness Doctrine, a policy crafted in 1929 that required broadcasters to balance political content with different points of view.

“It’s time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine,” he said. “I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they’re in a better position to make a decision.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, said this week that she would review the constitutional and legal issues involved in re-establishing the doctrine.

Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nominee, also said recently that the Fairness Doctrine should return.

In 1985 the FCC discarded the policy after deciding that it restricted journalistic freedom and “actually inhibit[ed] the presentation of controversial issues of public importance to the detriment of the public and in degradation of the editorial prerogative of broadcast journalists,” according to a Congressional Research Service report.
Much of the Senate Democrats beef may be, in part, driven by the massive voter contact effort on the immigration bill, a grassroots groundswell that may have led to a shut down of the phone system on Capitol Hill with so many people calling in to voice displeasure over the immigration bill.

Senate Democrats may argue that conservative talk radio spurred the call in campaign-and it may have. But that is no reason to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine. The Doctrine amounts to governmen imposed rules on content--a matter of, at best, questionable Constititional basis. Such a Doctrine is unlikely, in the modern age, to survive a constitutional challege.

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