In Depth

Bills Would Block FCC on Fairness Doctrine

It didn’t take long in the new Congress for Republicans to mount a fresh attempt to head off any bid by the Federal Communications Commission to revive the fairness doctrine, an old requirement that broadcasters have to provide equal time for competing political viewpoints.

Yesterday, on the first day bills could be introduced, Senate Republicans offered two bills to prevent the FCC from acting. House Republicans offered one.

The bills were introduced amidst fear by conservative talk-radio hosts that a new Democratic led FCC could reintroduce the requirement–impacting the ability of radio stations to run conservative talk shows. The FCC dropped the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. While it existed, the doctrine applied to TV stations as well as radio stations.

Although Republicans and conservative talk show hosts have been fearful of the doctrine’s revival, there has been little indication so far that Democrats plan to revive it.

One of the Senate bills was sponsored by 24 Republicans including Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; and James Inhofe, R-Okla.

Sen. Inhofe sponsored the second.

The House legislation was sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Greg Walden, R-Ore., and has 70 co-sponsors.

Mr. Inhofe in a statement called the Fairness Doctrine “a serious threat to free speech” and warned it “muzzles” the expression of opinion.

“It is a dangerous maneuver to enact more government ‘policing’ on our airwaves. Now, with Democrats in the control of the House, Senate and White House, the threat of its reenactment is more real than ever.

“The content of talk radio shows is market driven; it’s simple supply and demand. If more people want to listen to a certain type of talk radio, then those programs will be sustained by advertising, donations, and other sources. It is clear that the Democrats fear the growing audience for conservative talk radio. If the demand for liberal programming were greater, perhaps there would be more shows with that content.”

Mr. Pence warned a return of the doctrine would cause major problems.

“It is dangerous to suggest that the government should be in the business of rationing free speech,” he said.

(Editor: Baumann)