Republican lawmakers move to block reinstitution of Fairness Doctrine

Four influential Republican lawmakers Jan. 7 introduced bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate aimed at preventing the FCC from reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine.

The lawmakers — Rep. Mike Pence, R-IN, chairman of the House Republican Conference; Rep. Greg Walden, R-OR; Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, chairman of the Senate Steering Committee; and Sen. John Thune, R-SD, vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference — introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009 to prevent reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, which would require the government to monitor broadcast political speech to decide what constitutes fair political discourse.

In the past few months, several powerful Democrats have indicated they favor reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. In 1949, the FCC instituted the Fairness Doctrine in an attempt to assure balanced coverage of controversial issues. The commission decided in 1985 that a multiplicity of voices in the marketplace assured fairness and determined the rule was no longer necessary. After the courts decided in 1987 that the Fairness Doctrine was not mandated by Congress, the commission stopped enforcement of the rule.

“Whether as a throwback to the old Fairness Doctrine or under a less controversial guise, any effort to exert government control over speech on the airwaves is an insult to the principles behind the First Amendment,” Walden said in a press statement.

The DeMint-Thune Senate bill, S. 34, has 24 co-sponsors, and the Pence-Walden bill in the House already has more than 100 co-sponsors.

The NAB applauded the bills following their introduction. “Since the Fairness Doctrine's elimination in 1987, America has witnessed an absolute explosion in alternative media outlets, providing a rich diversity of viewpoints from all sides of the political spectrum,” said NAB Executive VP Dennis Wharton in a statement posted online.