Congressional Republicans want the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to silence the Fairness Doctrine once and for all. Although the policy that gave government the power to regulate political speech in radio and TV broadcasts was dropped by President Reagan's FCC, nostalgic leftists periodically seek to revive the measure as a means of muzzling conservative talk radio.
The Fairness Doctrine, established in 1949, gave the FCC the power to monitor broadcasters and then force them to air opposing viewpoints to controversial political issues when the feds determined a political bias in reporting. The rule created bland content as broadcasters sought to avoid getting into trouble. Its 1987 demise kicked off the revival of talk radio.
FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell noticed that the Fairness Doctrine was still a part of the Code of Federal Regulations while researching a speech on excessive government regulations. "We thought that this monster's dead and stinking corpse was left to rot in a government graveyard," the Republican commissioner said on May 19. "Instead, it appears that the commission merely opted not to enforce the rule. Its words still defile the pages of the CFR, and we should erase it with a repeal order immediately."
Only FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has the power to place repeal onto the agenda, so House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upon, Michigan Republican, and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, Oregon Republican, sent a letter asking him to strike the free-speech-violating rule. "The rules are outdated, unnecessary and needlessly endanger our sacred freedoms of speech and the press," Mr. Upton told The Washington Times. "The FCC has already decided not to enforce the Fairness Doctrine, so it's time to remove this dangerous policy from the rulebooks once and for all."
Unless the Fairness Doctrine is deleted, there is a chance that a hard-left administration with little respect for the law could bring it back to life. The move would have the support of congressional Democratic leaders like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Louise Slaughter and Sens. Dick Durbin, John Kerry and Dianne Feinstein, all of whom have been cheerleaders for reinstating Big Brother's control over broadcast media content.
Since the left can't compete with conservative talk radio on free-market terms, it naturally seeks government intervention to force liberal shows onto the airwaves. The Fairness Doctrine is an obsolete relic from a time of limited media options. Mr. Genachowski ought to have no problem initiating a proceeding to eliminate it once and for all.
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