Se­nate vote soundly re­jects any Fair­ness Doc­trine re­vival

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID R. SANDS

The Se­nate over­whelm­ingly put it­self on record Feb. 26 against any re­vival of the de­funct Fair­ness Doc­trine, de­signed to re­quire pub­lic broad­cast­ers to air “bal­anced” cov­er­age of con­tro­ver­sial is­sues of pub­lic im­por­tance.

Con­ser­va­tives have wor­ried that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­gres­sional Democrats were plot­ting to re­vive the pol­icy, dropped in the last years of the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion, as a means of curb­ing the in­flu­ence of com­mer­cial talk ra­dio and other me­dia dom­i­nated by right-of-cen­ter broad­cast­ers.

The 87-11 vote came on an amend­ment to the bill that would give the District of Columbia full vot­ing rights in the House of Rep- re­sen­ta­tives. It was of­fered by Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Repub­li­can.

But Democrats who wor­ried the ban was too sweep­ing were able to add a sec­ond amend­ment of­fered by Se­nate As­sis­tant Ma­jor­ity Leader Richard J. Durbin of Illi­nois re­stat­ing ex­ist­ing law that the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion’s mis­sion should in­clude pro­mot­ing di­ver­sity in me­dia own­er­ship and that the FCC re­tained the right to re­quire broad­cast­ers to meet their obli­ga­tions to “op­er­ate in the pub­lic in­ter­est.”

The Durbin amend­ment was ap­proved 57-41.

Mr. DeMint com­plained that the Durbin amend­ment opened the door for FCC reg­u­la­tors to con­sider fair­ness rules in other reg­u­la­tions.

“Se­na­tor Durbin’s amend­ment ex­posed Demo­crat in­ten­tions to im­pose ra­dio cen­sor­ship through the back door us­ing vague reg­u­la­tions deal­ing with me­dia own­er­ship,” Mr. DeMint said.

Mr. Durbin said on the Se­nate floor nei­ther he nor Pres­i­dent Obama wanted to re­vive the old Fair­ness Doc­trine. A spokesman for the agency said there was no plan to re­con­sider the abo­li­tion of the rule.

“The FCC elim­i­nated the Fair­ness Doc­trine in 1987 and has no in­ten­tion of re­in­stat­ing it now,” FCC spokesman Mark Wig­field said. He would not com­ment on the prac­ti­cal ef­fect of the Se­nate vote Thurs­day.

Mr. Durbin ar­gued the DeMint ban was so sweep­ing it could pre­vent the FCC from en­forc­ing reg­u­la­tions re­gard­ing chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion pro­gram­ming or the air­ing of pub­lic safety an­nounce­ments.

“No one is sug­gest­ing that the law for the FCC says that you can give this li­cense to a Repub­li­can and this one to a Demo­crat and this one to a lib­eral and this one to a con­ser­va­tive. When we talk about di­ver­sity in me­dia own­er­ship, it re­lates pri­mar­ily to gen­der, race and other char­ac­ter­is­tics of that na­ture,” he said.

Con­ser­va­tives have ar­gued that the Fair­ness Doc­trine in prac­tice would harm con­ser­va­tive talk-ra­dio pro­grams, which have proven far more prof­itable and pop­u­lar than most of their lib­eral com­peti­tors.

The FCC first is­sued the rule man­dat­ing bal­anced cov­er­age in 1949, but stopped en­forc­ing it in 1987 af­ter con­clud­ing that the ex­plo­sion of news out­lets and sources of in­for­ma­tion on pub­lic is­sues made the doc­trine ob­so­lete.

A spokesman for Mr. Obama two weeks ago said the pres­i­dent had no in­ten­tion of re­viv­ing the Fair­ness Doc­trine, but sev­eral of his aides had dis­cussed the idea of re­viv­ing it at least in mod­i­fied form. Mr. DeMint ar­gued that his amend­ment was needed to guar­an­tee that the FCC would not at­tempt to re­vive quo­tas or guide­lines on pro­gram­ming.

Top-rated ra­dio host Rush Lim­baugh said re­cently he did not put much stock in Mr. Obama’s dec­la­ra­tion.

“Of course, they’re not go­ing to bring back the Fair­ness Doc­trine. They’re go­ing to call it some­thing else,” he said.

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