It appears as though we’ve taken a time capsule back to the Cold War. Liberals in Congress are “looking at the possibility” of bringing back the so-called “Fairness Doctrine,” a completely partisan ploy to manipulate the public airwaves and stifle free speech. An arcane method of regulating broadcasters, the “Fairness Doctrine” threatens broadcasters with loss of licensing if they do not offer airtime to opposing viewpoints, thus creating—in theory, at least—“fair and balanced” reporting. Given the surge of popularity of conservative talk radio, this debate is turning into nothing more than a childish tantrum on the part of liberals that, “You’re not listening to me!”
This controversial attack on the First Amendment dates back to 1949 and was consistently challenged until it was ultimately overturned in 1987. A misguided attempt to enhance public awareness, this policy, in effect, restricts journalistic freedom and actually inhibits controversial issues from being presented.
Oddly enough, the hatchet that was buried twenty years ago has again been dug up and is being used to chop down our freedom of expression and speech.
The Senate first instigated the current “Fairness Doctrine” debate in late June when liberal Senators publicly declared their intentions to revive this antiquated policy. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) have all announced their support for the “Fairness Doctrine.”
Sen. Durbin has repeatedly claimed that it is in the best interest of the nation to have “an educated electorate.” In an interview with Fox News Sunday on June 24, Sen. Feinstein said, “I remember when there was a [F]airness [D]octrine, and I think there was much more serious correct reporting to people.” Sen. Kerry then made a public statement on June 26 on YouTube asserting that there is an “imbalance of our public dialogue,” and that the “Fairness Doctrine” would alleviate concerns about squeezing out opposing views.
At the onset of this fierce debate, the House considered an amendment offered by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) to the Financial Services Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2829), to bar the FCC from spending money to revive the “Fairness Doctrine” or any similar policies. On June 28, Rep. Pence’s amendment passed overwhelmingly in a 309-115 vote.
A group of conservative Senators, led by Sen. Norm Coleman, (R-Minnesota) followed suit by writing the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2007, which contains nearly identical language to the Pence amendment and maintains that the FCC cannot reintroduce the “Fairness Doctrine.” Regrettably, Sen. Durbin and other liberals have rebuffed repeated attempts to attach this legislation onto appropriations bills on the Senate floor.
Sen. Coleman first tried to attach the Broadcaster Freedom Act as an amendment to the Department of Defense Reauthorization bill (H.R. 1585) on July 16, and liberals objected to his request, interrupting his floor speech several times to ask questions and highlight their objections to the legislation. Later that week, on July 20, he proposed attaching the Broadcaster Freedom Act to the Higher Education Reauthorization Bill (S. 1642) and was again rebuffed by a procedural vote that fell directly along party lines.
Broadcasters have also spoken out against the “Fairness Doctrine.” A recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times stated, “No matter what your point of view might be, you have free or inexpensive outlets available to express them … [j]ust as the government shouldn’t decide what you say on the channels you create, nor should it be able to dictate the range of opinions people hear over the air.” In a press release following the Pence Amendment passage, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) stated, “Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine is unnecessary, unwarranted, and unconstitutional. Complementing the absolute explosion in alternative media outlets since the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated, broadcast viewers and listeners today enjoy a rich diversity of viewpoints from all sides of the political spectrum.”
Sen. Coleman echoed those sentiments earlier in his floor speech during the introduction of the Broadcaster Freedom Act. “In the world of communications today, Americans have all sorts of options to hear the other side. All they’ve got to do is turn a dial. All they’ve got to do is push a button. All they’ve got to do is press a mouse.”
Suppressing freedom of speech as a political tactic has not curried favor with many in this debate. Via the Internet, radio or television, abundant viewpoints are available, and consumers can subscribe to whichever suits their fancy. Keeping access to the airwaves free and unfettered is an important task of Congress, and it should not abandon that task now.
Thank Rep. Mike Pence for his amendment to protect freedom of speech, and thank those Representatives that voted in favor of his amendment. For information on the roll call vote on the Pence amendment, click here.
Rep. Mike Pence: 202-225-3021
House Switchboard: 202-225-3121
Thank Sen. Norm Coleman for his tireless efforts to introduce the Broadcaster Freedom Act and protecting the First Amendment. Urge your Senators to co-sponsor the Broadcaster Freedom Act!
Sen. Norm Coleman: 202-224-5641
Senate Switchboard: 202-224-3121