House Proposes Ban on Fairness Doctrine Funding
The House of Representatives moved today to ban the Federal Communications Commission from reviving the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to offer competing viewpoints in a balanced manner when presenting controversial issues.
The House inserted a ban on government spending in behalf of the doctrine into an appropriations bill, acting at the urging of GOP conservatives. Democrats charged the move was "a political stunt" aimed at quieting unwarranted conservative talk-show hosts' fears that the doctrine could return. The legislation was awaiting a final vote at press time.
Democrats admitted some concern about the lack of balance on talk radio, but said there was no immediate prospect for the Fairness Doctrine's revival.
"It's long since gone by the board because of court decisions and various FCC decisions," said House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, D-Wis., who readily accepted the GOP amendment, then saw conservatives spend half an hour rising to praise it. He called the move "another political exercise" intended to fix fears coming from "talk radio and yap-yap TV."
"I want to see the real Rush [Limbaugh]. I want folks like him to be exposed to American audiences in all his bloviated glory. Let right-wing radio go on just as they do now. ... Rush and Sean [Hannity] are just as important as ... Paris Hilton. I would hate to see government moderate it to give them an ounce of credibility," Rep. Obey said.
The amendment was proposed by U.S. Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind.; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; and Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. They acted after Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., endorsed the doctrine's revival and Matt Drudge's Drudge Report Web site featured a clip of what turned out to be a months-old interview in which Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry also endorsed it.
Aides to Sen. Kerry and Sen. Durbin said neither senator is sponsoring legislation. An aide to Sen. Feinstein said she has directed staff to look at the possible changes to the communications law "to ensure there is a degree of fairness," but that she has no active proposal.
House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, chairman of one of its panels, also have talked of holding hearings.
Conservatives today called the Fairness Doctrine outmoded.
"As kids say, this doctrine is so 20th-century," said Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
"If the Fairness Doctrine is put back in place, you will silence the public," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who owns a radio station.
Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., called any plan to reintroduce it "a bald-faced attack on free speech. Proponents don't like what they hear on the radio. The content of radio and television shows should be directed by station managers, not the government."
Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., said Republican conservatives on the air acknowledge what they stand for.
"The difference is that Rush Limbaugh knows and admits he is a conservative. Dan Rather and Katie Couric don't admit they are liberals," he said.
Rep. Pence said today's amendment will send "a deafening message" that Congress doesn't want the doctrine reinstated.