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Senate to Debate Fairness Doctrine

Jul 10, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The U.S. Senate is about to get its turn to block the Federal Communications Commission from reviving the Fairness Doctrine, the policy requiring broadcasters to offer competing viewpoints in a balanced manner when presenting controversial issues.
A week after Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., Jim DeMint, R-S.C., John Thune, R-S.D., and 15 GOP co-sponsors proposed to enact a law mirroring a ban approved by the House, the senators hope instead to add the language to an Iraq war appropriations bill now on the Senate floor. A press conference to announce the plan is slated for Wednesday.
A debate and vote on the Fairness Doctrine amendment could take place by week’s end. The Senate today was locked in what could be a long debate on Iraq war-related amendments that could delay consideration of other amendments to the bill.
The Fairness Doctrine debate occurs under unusual circumstances.
The FCC has shown little indication of any move to bring the doctrine back. While Democrats have expressed some concerns that their message isn’t getting fair exposure on conservative talk radio, most of the comment on the subject has been only in response to reporters’ questions.
Only Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has indicated she is actively looking at legislation; however, an aide said she has no specific proposal and was looking at possible changes to the communications law “to ensure there is a degree of fairness.”
Still the comments from Democrats — in addition to Sen. Feinstein, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and several congressmen have talked about it — have stoked fears among senators and conservative talk show hosts that the doctrine’s revival is imminent.
In the House, the result was an unusual debate.
Republicans — led by U.S. Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas — called the Fairness Doctrine archaic in an age when consumers have numerous sources for information; they pushed for adding a ban on FCC action to unrelated appropriations legislation.
Democrats, meanwhile, questioned the reason for a debate, saying no revival was under consideration and offering to accept the amendment without debate. The House eventually voted 309 to 115 to accept the amendment.
The Senate action is on a different appropriations bill than the one the House considered.
In unveiling the original legislation on June 29, shortly after the House voted, senators warned about trying to reimpose the doctrine.
“At its core, this is about the right to free speech,” said Sen. Coleman.
Sen. Thune said liberals want to change the law rather than hear an unfavorable debate.
“It’s not surprising that some liberal voices are frustrated with talk radio, but rather than debate the issues, they prefer to regulate voices they don’t agree with,” he said.
(Editor: Horowitz)

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