Barry, it’s impossible to ignore the ongoing discussion and renewed calls from members of Congress to bring back the Fairness Doctrine or what many are saying will be legislation that will go by a different name. 

As we’ve discussed before , the Fairness Doctrine is an antiquated Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule dating back to the 1940s that was abandoned in 1987 during the Reagan administration. 


In theory, the Fairness Doctrine was designed to enhance political discourse by requiring television and radio broadcast stations to “cover vitally important controversial issues of interest in their communities” and “provide a reasonable opportunity for the presentation of contrasting viewpoints on those controversial issues of public importance.” In re Complaint of Syracuse Peace Council Against Television Station WTVH Syracuse, New York, 2 F.C.C.R. 5043 (1987).


In practice, however, the Fairness Doctrine stifled political debate and forced broadcasters to subsidize unpopular programs and significantly limit their coverage of controversial topics. After nearly four decades of experience in applying the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC concluded in August 1987 that “the fairness doctrine contravenes the First Amendment and thereby disserves the public interest.”


There’s a new flurry of activity in Congress – seeking to bring back this troubling measure or something like it.  And, in our analysis , such a move would be an unconstitutional attempt to stifle free speech. 


White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod refused to rule out the possibility that the Fairness Doctrine would make a comeback.  In an interview with one of the Sunday news programs, he said he would leave that issue to incoming FCC Commissioner Julius Genachowski to discuss with President Obama.


And, now comes a report that there are ongoing discussions about this very topic on Capitol Hill.  Consider this from a news report  just out today:


“Senior FCC staff working for acting Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps held meetings last week with policy and legislative advisers to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman to discuss ways the committee can create openings for the FCC to put in place a form of the “Fairness Doctrine” without actually calling it such.”


Barry, the American people understand what’s taking place.  In a new poll just released, just 38% of Americans support government-mandated speech on radio – a sharp decline of nearly 10 points since the last survey taken in August.  While 47% of Americans oppose government-imposed speech on radio stations, 65% of Americans believe it is likely that the Democrat-controlled Congress will reinstate the Fairness Doctrine.


We have seen repeated efforts to bring back this troubling regulatory measure. A 2005 bill sought to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine by requiring broadcasters to “afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance” in a manner “consistent with the rules and policies of the Commission in effect on January 1, 1987.” H.R. 3302, 109th Cong., 1st Sess., July 14, 2005.


The legislator who introduced that measure in 2005 now says he plans to reintroduce it in this session of Congress.   Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D – NY) plans to reintroduce his 2005 bill. “We’re going to focus attention on [the Fairness Doctrine] and see what happens,” Hinchey told an Ohio newspaper.


And, now, there’s a new wave of lawmakers who seem very intent on trying to bring this regulatory measure back.  But this time, there’s talk of calling it something else.  In recent weeks, a number of lawmakers – including Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) – expressed support for this type of legislation.


Sen. Harkin told a radio show that “we gotta get the Fairness Doctrine back in law again.”


And this from Sen. Stabenow in a recent interview:  “I think it’s absolutely time to pass a standard. Now, whether it’s called the Fairness Standard, whether it’s called something else – I absolutely think it’s time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves.”


Barry, I know you don’t think this is a big deal.  But, it’s hard to ignore the continued pleas from those who keep talking about bringing back regulation aimed at controlling conservative – including Christian – speech. 


Whether you call it the “Fairness Doctrine” or something else, this is a road that President Obama and Congress should not go down.


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