Off the record the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
says that it has no plans to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Nevertheless,
earlier this month in a public letter to FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin, House Minority
Leader John Boehner (R-OH) charged that the doctrine was going to be re-imposed
secretly upon broadcast media.
"Under the rubric of 'broadcast localism' it is clear the Commission is proposing
no less than a sweeping takeover by Washington bureaucrats of broadcast media.
The proposals and recommendations for Commission action contained in the Notice
of Proposed Rulemaking amount to the stealth enactment of the Fairness
Doctrine, a policy designated to squelch the free speech and free expression of
specifically targeted audiences,"
Begun in 1934 during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt when
AM radio was king, the Fairness Doctrine sought to ensure that radio listeners
would get both sides of a political story by requiring that stations give equal
air time to different opinions. In 1987, after nearly 40 years of enforcement,
the FCC voted to halt the doctrine's implementation when it had become obvious
that the government's monitoring of the media led to censorship. Radio since
the 1980s holds no sort of communication monopoly as it did in the 1930s.
The press release which accompanied the letter from Boehner's office notes,
"The rules, proposed by the FCC earlier this year, would reinstitute
advisory boards to regulate broadcast content and revive a host of other rules
the Commission dropped more than 20 years ago."
Sources at the FCC say that the only thing that has been circulated is a "Notice
of Proposed Rulemaking" and that outside comments are just now coming back
to the Commission. They insist that no rule of any kind has been circulated,
and they continue to work with the National Religious Broadcasters and fully
expect to exempt noncommercial stations from any final order in order to
protect small stations.
They add, "This is in no way a back door to the Fairness Doctrine.
It is simply an attempt to get at big companies that are not fulfilling their
requirements to the public in order to have their free license to use the
public airwaves. There are localism requirements to use the public
airwaves just like there are indecency rules. You have to have some
relationship with the area in which you are licensed to serve."
They observe that some companies have been remotely
operating in places like Los Angeles and are acting as if they were in
"We are still a long way from making any permanent decisions but this has
absolutely nothing to do with the Fairness Doctrine."
As if to take a pre-emptive strike at this assertion, Boehner notes in his
letter that forcing the licensees to recreate the so-called "advisory
boards" of a bygone era would encumber broadcast media with onerous
bureaucratic burdens not faced by cable, satellite, or the
internet. The report's assertion that these boards would help radio stations
"determine the needs and interests of their communities" or promote
"localism and diversity" borders on fantasy.
So what's the problem? Why all the anxiety? Why don't Republicans in the House
of Representatives accept the quiet assurances of the FCC and settle down? The
answer, of course, is talk radio. It is the only form of communication that
conservatives have through which they can certainly and consistently connect
with the general public. Most major television and print media are dominated by
liberals, but conservatives are successful on talk radio.
One may think that the liberals who dominate other media would be willing to
overlook talk radio; they are not. H.R. 2905, the Broadcaster Freedom Act,
sponsored by Representative Mike Pence (R-IN), is tied up in the House Energy
and Commerce Committee waiting for a vote which may never come. The House
Democratic Leadership opposes this legislation because it permanently would
place the Fairness Doctrine in the ashbin of history, where it belongs. The
Democrats want complete control of all media.
The FCC should make it clear to Republicans, Democrats and the public, as soon
as possible, that it has no intention of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine in
any way, shape or form. Also, the House Leadership should move H.R. 2905 out of
Committee and give it a simple up-or-down vote on the House Floor. If they did,
just about everyone might come out a winner.