Right not re­as­sured on the threat to talk ra­dio

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY KARA ROW­LAND

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s state­ment Feb. 18 that it will not re­vive the Fair­ness Doc­trine has not as­suaged fears among op­po­nents of the mea­sure, a dis­carded 1949 man­date that broad­cast­ers present con­trast­ing views on con­tro­ver­sial is­sues.

In­stead, con­ser­va­tives warn that Democrats will try to push through an am­bigu­ously named rule they say would have the same re­sult: si­lenc­ing con­ser­va­tive talk ra­dio.

“I wouldn’t read any­thing into this,” host Rush Lim­baugh said of a FoxNews.com re­port that the pres­i­dent is op­posed to the Fair­ness Doc­trine. “Of course they’re not go­ing to bring back the Fair­ness Doc­trine. They’re go­ing to call it some­thing else.”

The state­ment by White House spokesman Ben LaBolt to FoxNews came days af­ter White House ad­viser David Ax­el­rod re­fused to rule out a reim­po­si­tion of the doc­trine, which con­ser­va­tives and even some lib­er­als de­cry as a form of cen­sor­ship. Though it was aban­doned by the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion in 1987, de­bate over the doc­trine has reignited in re­cent weeks as a string of prom­i­nent Democrats — in­clud­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Tom Harkin — have ei­ther en­dorsed the doc­trine or broader reg­u­la­tion that would bring more “bal­ance” to the air­waves.

Con­ser­va­tives have pounced on the com­ments as ev­i­dence Democrats want to crowd out in­flu­en­tial syndicated hosts like Mr. Lim­baugh and Sean Han­nity and Capi­tol Hill Repub­li­cans are push­ing a bill to bar law­mak­ers and any fu­ture FCC from re­viv­ing the Fair­ness Doc­trine. But as no leg­is­la­tion to re­in­state it has been in­tro­duced, and with Mr. LaBolt’s dec­la­ra­tion that Mr. Obama is not pur­su­ing it, some say right-wing talk ra­dio hosts are merely ex­ploit­ing the Fair­ness Doc­trine to gar­ner rat­ings.

“I think that should pretty much be the nail in the cof­fin,” said John Halpin, a se­nior fel­low with the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, a lib­eral think tank that in 2007 pub­lished a re­port on the con­ser­va­tive dom­i­nance of talk ra­dio. “No one is in­ter­ested in reg­u­lat­ing or man­dat­ing bal­anced con­tent. We pro­pose own­er­ship di­ver­sity and more lo­cal­ism.”

Mr. Halpin said con­ser­va­tives who ac­cuse the left of try­ing to si­lence talk ra­dio are con­flat­ing the is­sues.

“We’re just try­ing to say that there are down­sides to con­cen­trated own­er­ship,” he said. “Too much na­tion­ally syndicated pro­gram­ming is harm­ing lo­cal needs — it has noth­ing to do with what par­tic­u­lar talk ra­dio hosts are say­ing, it has to do with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.”

Sim­i­larly, a House Demo­crat who in 2005 in­cluded the Fair­ness Doc­trine as part of a larger me­dia re­form bill plans to leave it out when he in­tro­duces it later this ses­sion, in­stead fo­cus­ing on me­dia own­er­ship caps and new pub­lic in­ter­est re­port­ing re­quire­ments.

“The con­gress­man is fo­cused on re­form­ing the me­dia and the ill ef­fects that are as­so­ci­ated with me­dia con­sol­i­da­tion,” said Jeff Lieber­son, a spokesman for Rep. Mau­rice Hinchey of New York. “That’s not to say that he’s not in fa­vor of the Fair­ness Doc­trine, but I think that from a prac­ti­cal stand­point, this is the most ef­fec­tive way that he thinks he can go about bring­ing about the change that he thinks is needed.”

The FCC has the au­thor­ity to act on the doc­trine, as well as lo­cal­ism and me­dia own­er­ship is- sues, without Congress. Mr. Obama’s nom­i­nee to head the agency, Julius Ge­na­chowski, has not pub­licly dis­cussed his po­si­tion on the doc­trine and did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment.

If the doc­trine were to re­turn in a new form, FCC Com­mis­sioner Robert M. McDow­ell said it would prob­a­bly be un­der the man­tle of lo­cal­ism or net neu­tral­ity. He noted a cur­rent FCC pro­ceed­ing that raises the idea of com­mu­nity ad­vi­sory boards that would in­flu­ence what con­tent broad­cast­ers air and whether they get their li­censes re­newed.

“Those all sound like noble en­deav­ors un­til you start ex­am­in­ing the un­der­belly there — the con­sti­tu­tional con­cerns, which spring from es­sen­tially forced speech by the gov­ern­ment,” said Mr. McDow­ell, a Repub­li­can.

De­spite Mr. LaBolt’s com­ments, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina plans to force a vote on the Broad­caster Free­dom Act this week by of­fer­ing it as an amend­ment to a District of Columbia vot­ing rights bill.

“I’m glad Pres­i­dent Obama fi­nally con­firmed his op­po­si­tion to the Fair­ness Doc­trine, which at­tacks the right of free speech on talk ra­dio, but many Democrats in Congress are still push­ing it. With the sup­port of the new ad­min­is­tra­tion, now is the time for Congress to take a stand against this kind of cen­sor­ship,” said Mr. DeMint, a Repub­li­can.


Doesn’t seem so fair to him: Sen. Jim DeMint

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