- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2007

House Republican leaders are calling on lawmakers from both parties to force a vote on giving Congress the final say in future attempts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine — a regulation considered potentially harmful to the conservative-dominated talk-radio market.

The Republicans, responding to Democratic leaders’ failure to schedule a vote on a bill requiring presidents and the Federal Communications Commission to get congressional approval to revive the doctrine, will employ a rarely used petition strategy to try to get it to the House floor.

“The Fairness Doctrine is an existential threat to American talk radio as we know it,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican. “We don’t have to speculate about it, because we have four decades of experience.”

Democrats have twice passed bills reinstating the doctrine, which requires that any political discussion over the airwaves be balanced out by opposing viewpoints, but the bills were vetoed by Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

In place from 1949 through 1987, the doctrine was originally implemented to prevent a monopoly of viewpoints on what were then a limited number of broadcast stations. The Reagan administration FCC abandoned it after concluding that it chilled speech because broadcasters did not want to risk airing controversial material.

Several high-profile Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Dianne Feinstein of California, recently have voiced support for reinstating the doctrine.

“I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they’re in a better position to make a decision,” Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said during a congressional debate about the doctrine this past June.

In June, 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.

Mr. Pence expressed doubts that many Democrats would sign on to the petition for the Broadcaster Freedom Act, which needs 218 signatures — including 18 Democrats if all Republicans sign on — to force a vote on the House floor.

Mr. Pence, a former radio-talk-show host, successfully sponsored a one-year moratorium on reinstating the Fairness Doctrine earlier this year after speculation that Democrats were considering legislation on the issue. His bill passed with 309 votes, including 107 Democrats.

President Bush has reportedly told Mr. Pence that he would sign the Broadcaster Freedom Act if it comes to his desk.

House Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey, one of the Democrats who voted for the Pence bill, said at the time that reinstating the Fairness Doctrine would play into the hands of conservative activists.

“Rush [Limbaugh] and Sean [Hannity] are just about as important in the scheme of things as Paris Hilton,” the Wisconsin Democrat said.

“I would hate to see them gain an ounce of credibility by being forced by a government agency or anybody else to moderate their views enough that they might become modestly influential or respected.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman’s office denied a report that the California Democrat was planning investigations of Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Hannity as a possible first step in bringing back the Fairness Doctrine.

Kara Rowland contributed to this report.

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