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Morning Bell: Fairness Doctrine 2.0

Posted By Conn Carroll On November 25, 2008 @ 9:26 am In First Principles | Comments Disabled

After the Democratic Party took control of Congress in 2006, experts predicted the federal government was sure to pass “comprehensive” immigration reform [1]. The new liberal majorities in the House and Senate wanted it, the mainstream [2] media [3] wanted it, a Republican president wanted it [4], and the eventual nominee of Republican Party helped craft the bill [5]. But then democracy happened. Conservative and independent activists pierced through the establishment’s gooey rhetoric to expose what was at the core of the bill: amnesty for millions of immigrants who violated American laws when entering the country [6] that would end up costing taxpayers at least $2.6 trillion [7].

Key to this grassroots victory was talk radio [8]. By informing and motivating their listeners, talk radio hosts generated thousands of calls to Congress, which swamped Capitol Hill switchboards [9]. When the dust settled, the American people won. This was made possible thanks to the principles enshrined in the First Amendment [10]: the freedom of speech, freedom of press, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

But the establishment was not happy. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) complained that “hate radio” had hijacked political discourse [11] and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called for a revival of the Fairness Doctrine [12]. Authorized by the Communications Act of 1934 and implemented by the Federal Communications Commission in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to “afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial matters of public importance [13].” While this may sound reasonable at first, just like “comprehensive” immigration reform does, the language itself is impossibly vague. The Fairness Doctrine became a tool for politicians to harass stations that dared to air opinions they did not like [14]. Even if a challenge against a station ultimately failed, the cost of defending against it could be substantial. So the safe route for most station owners was to stay far away from the policy discussion entirely.

It took a conservative revolution in Washington before the FCC finally recognized how stifling its “fairness” rule was. In 1987 the FCC found that “the intrusion by government into the content of programming occasioned by the enforcement of [the Fairness Doctrine] restricts the journalistic freedom of broadcasters … [and] actually inhibits the presentation of controversial issues of public importance to the detriment of the public and the degradation of the editorial prerogative of broadcast journalists [14].”

But now that they are back in power, liberals are again bent on stifling dissent. They have learned from their past failures, however. Last year former talk show host Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) sponsored legislation forbidding the FCC from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. It passed 309-115. But the measure was never taken up by the Senate. The FCC still has the same power it did in 1949 to create a new Fairness Doctrine. And that is exactly what the left is already moving to do.

Last year the Center for American Progress released its blueprint for the re-censorship of America’s airwaves [15]. The report notes that the exact same language that authorized the original Fairness Doctrine has never been repealed: “Thus, the public obligations inherent in the Fairness Doctrine are still in existence and operative, at least on paper. … The Fairness Doctrine was most effective as part of a regulatory structure that limited license terms to three years, subjected broadcasters to license challenges through comparative hearings … and empowered local community through a process of interviewing a variety of local leaders.” These are exactly policy prescriptions the Center for American Progress wants the FCC to adopt today: shortening radio broadcast licenses from eight to three years; requiring broadcasters to prove to bureaucrats they are operating “on behalf of the public interest”; and forcing broadcasters who fail to satisfy the bureaucrats to fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The left will not call this new policy the Fairness Doctrine. They know they lost that fight [16]. Instead, liberals are using new buzzwords like “localism [17]“to mask their attacks on free speech. But make no mistake, the “public interest” requirements of Fairness Doctrine 2.0 can be defined almost any way a regulator wants — up to and perhaps even beyond that required by the old Fairness Doctrine. Conservatives must keep a close eye on what the FCC does next.

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Article printed from The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation: http://blog.heritage.org

URL to article: http://blog.heritage.org/2008/11/25/morning-bell-the-fairness-doctrine-20/

URLs in this post:

[1] the federal government was sure to pass “comprehensive” immigration reform: http://www.forbes.com/2006/10/17/immigration-congress-labor-biz-cx_1018oxford.html

[2] mainstream: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/laplaza/2008/10/la-times-editor.html

[3] media: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/20/opinion/20mon1.html

[4] a Republican president wanted it: http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2007/initiatives/immigration.html

[5] the eventual nominee of Republican Party helped craft the bill: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comprehensive_Immigration_Reform_Act_of_2007

[6] amnesty for millions of immigrants who violated American laws when entering the country: http://www.heritage.org/Press/Commentary/ed052406a.cfm

[7] would end up costing taxpayers at least $2.6 trillion: http://www.heritage.org/Research/Immigration/wm1490.cfm

[8] Key to this grassroots victory was talk radio: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0807/5449.html

[9] talk radio hosts generated thousands of calls to Congress, which swamped Capitol Hill switchboards: http://www.usnews.com/blogs/mashek/2007/7/3/how-talk-radio-torpedoed-immigration-reform.html

[10] First Amendment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Amendment

[11] Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) complained that “hate radio” had hijacked political discourse: http://thinkprogress.org/2007/06/28/pelosi-talk-radio/

[12] Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called for a revival of the Fairness Doctrine: http://www.breitbart.tv/html/2133.html

[13] afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial matters of public importance: http://www.heritage.org/Research/Regulation/wm1472.cfm

[14] The Fairness Doctrine became a tool for politicians to harass stations that dared to air opinions they did not like: http://www.amconmag.com/article/2007/apr/23/00021/

[15] blueprint for the re-censorship of America’s airwaves: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/06/pdf/talk_radio.pdf

[16] They know they lost that fight: http://www.thenextright.com/patrick-ruffini/crying-wolf-on-the-fairness-doctrine

[17] localism: http://www.nowfoundation.org/issues/communications/fcc/071031testimony.html

[18] California officials will investigate the Mormon church: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-11-24-california-proposition8-mormons_N.htm

[19] there is no recession for lobbyists in Washington: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/25/washington/25lobby.html?ref=todayspaper

[20] British officials announced a $30 billion economic stimulus package Monday.: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/24/AR2008112402458.html

[21] illegally claiming a D.C. homestead exemption for more than a decade: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/24/AR2008112402616.html

[22] to be named in his honor: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/25/nyregion/25rangel.html?ref=todayspaper

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