- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2007

There is no “compelling reason to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine,” the head of the Federal Communications Commission said in a letter to lawmakers this week.

Chairman Kevin J. Martin, responding to a letter from several House Republicans on the modern-day appropriateness of the rule, assured them that the media regulator has no intention of bringing back the doctrine, which required broadcasters to present contrasting points of view on issues of public importance.

“In my judgment, the events of the last two decades have confirmed the wisdom of the commission’s decision to abolish the Fairness Doctrine,” wrote Mr. Martin, a Republican, in a letter dated Monday and released yesterday.

“Discussion of controversial issues over the airwaves has flourished absent regulatory constraints, and the public now enjoys access to an ever-expanding range of views and opinions. Indeed, with the continued proliferation of additional sources of information and programming, including satellite broadcasting and the Internet, the need for the Fairness Doctrine has lessened ever further since 1987.”

The commission under President Reagan started inquiries into the doctrine’s constitutionality and in 1987 abandoned it altogether, concluding that it chilled speech because broadcasters did not want to risk airing controversial material. Moreover, Mr. Martin noted in his letter, the doctrine inhibited the expression of unpopular viewpoints.

Mr. Martin’s opinion comes as no surprise, but his letter is the latest iteration in a Republican-led campaign to prevent a future administration from bringing back the Fairness Doctrine. The doctrine, vehemently opposed by conservatives, in recent months has attracted the support of liberal think tanks and some Democratic lawmakers.

In a July 19 letter, Republican representatives Joe L. Barton of Texas, Fred Upton of Michigan, Mike Pence of Indiana and Greg Walden of Oregon asked Mr. Martin for his “thoughts on the appropriateness of the Fairness Doctrine in today’s broadcast environment.” They are among more than 140 lawmakers who have sponsored a House bill that would bar the FCC from reinstating the policy. A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate.

In a joint statement yesterday, Mr. Pence and Mr. Walden commended Mr. Martin but said it is still necessary to pass their bill, the Broadcaster Freedom Act, to “ensure that no future administration or FCC chairman have the power to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine without an act of Congress.”

The FCC is made up of five commissioners appointed by the president. The current agency includes three Republicans and two Democrats.

Many attribute the astronomical rise of talk radio to the policy’s elimination. However, the popularity of talk radio has not been without scrutiny.

Last month, a report by the liberal group Center for American Progress, criticized the “structural imbalance of political talk radio,” concluding that conservatives dominate the medium 9-to-1. Arguing that the media landscape does not serve all Americans, the group’s prescriptions included stricter media-ownership limits and public-interest requirements.

Air America, a prominent liberal talk-radio network, was bailed out of bankruptcy in January by real estate tycoon Stephen L. Green.

Days after the report’s release, Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, shared a conversation he said he overheard three years earlier between Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barbara Boxer of California, in which the women called for a “legislative fix” to counter the influence of “extremist” talk-radio hosts. Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Boxer denied the conversation took place.