Senate Votes To Ban Return of Fairness Doctrine
Amendment added to DC Voting Rights Act
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/26/2009 5:05:56 PM
The Senate voted Thursday 87-11 to prevent the FCC from reinstating the fairness doctrine, not that the FCC had indicated plans to do so.
The vote was on an amendment, itself amended, to an unrelated bill, the D.C. Voting Rights Act.
For that vote to block fairness reimposition to stand, the Voting Rights Act needs to pass in the Senate and the fairness amendment would have so survive a conference process with the House version.
The Broadcaster Freedom Act, introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), could initially have also prevented the commission from taking some proposed steps to bolster localism, including setting up advisory boards to give broadcasters guidance on public interest programming.
Those have been criticized by some Republicans as a back-door attempt to reinstate the doctrine.
The Broadcaster Freedom Act, would have prohibited "any similar requirement that broadcasters meet programming quotas or guidelines for issues o20 public importance.''
But that language was struck by a second amendment, introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-ILL), that instead, explicitly reaffirmed the commission's power to seek to promote diversity in media ownership.
The Durbin amendment passed on a straight party line vot, 57-41, while the larger fairness doctrine-blocking bill passed 81-11.
Free Press praised Durbin for rejecting the fairness doctrine hysterics." The move also created a bill that the Democrats could pass if they wanted to try and quell the ongoing doctrine debate.
DeMint introduced his fairness doctrine-blocking bill last month.
Attempts were made to pass similar bills in the last Congress. In fact, the House passed a bill sponsored by Pence, a former radio talk show host himself, that put a one-year moratorium on funding any Federal Communications Commission reimposition of the doctrine. Democrats, led by David Obey (D-Wis.), suggested that the amendment was a red herring, a nonissue and that it was being debated, such as it was -- no Democrats stood to oppose it -- to provide sound bites for conservative talkers and "yap yap TV," who had ginned up the issue.
In a Shakespearian mood, Obey said the amendment was "much ado about nothing" and "sound and fury, signifying nothing."
But other Democrats suggested that the sticking point was the current administration, and some big names, including Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), talked about the possibility of bringing it back.
Durbin's amendment may have opened the door for yet more fairness doctrine debate, however, which has been fueled by both Democrats suggesting the doctrine could come back and talk radio hosts convinced that is in the Democrats' playbook.
"Today's vote slammed the front door on the so-called ‘fairness doctrine,' which threatens to censor free speech and shut down talk radio," said DeMint in a statement on his Web site. "When senators were forced to vote in the open on this issue, they were compelled to side with the American people."
But he also said the Durbin amendment "seeks to achieve the same goals of the fairness doctrine through backdoor FCC regulations. "His legislation forces the FCC to "take actions to encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership," an attempt to muzzle successful syndicated radio programs.
However, the Senate also passed an amendment by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) that seeks to achieve the same goals of the fairness doctrine through backdoor FCC regulations. His legislation forces the FCC to "take actions to encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership," an attempt to muzzle successful syndicated radio programs. The Durbin amendment would hurt small, local radio stations that depend on popular syndicated programming for listeners and revenue. The Durbin amendment passed 57-41; no Republican supported his legislation.
It really doesn't matter who owns radio stations. It is the requirement for local content that is the problem. Just prior to the birth of talk radio, AM radio was a dying industry. FM is much better for listening to music, so no one was listening. Talk radio turned all that around.
To those who argue the playing field is unfair to opposing views, just look at Air America. They had powerful stations, tons of free publicity from the mainstream media, and fairly big names. It sank like a rock because no one listened and therefore couldn't sell advertising. Even today, anyone who believes there is an audience for "opposing views" are welcome to make their pitch to the station owners all around the country (and there are lots of them).
However, if we are going to demand local ownership and local and diverse content on radio, then we must demand local ownership and local and diverse content on television stations. No more network programming and network news out of New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles. Also, we must insist upon local control and local and diverse content in newspapers, so say goodbye to the wire services provided by the AP, the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc. Finally, there must be local and diverse control (local being defined as the town where the campus is located) in public and private (or they lose their non-profit status) universities. For every Ward Churchill on the faculty or guest speaker there must be an opposing professor or speaker. No more banning certain speakers because they might "offend" some interest group on campus.
It would be nice if those who pine for "opposing views" would worry less about the rules and just wade into the marketplace of ideas and make their arguments. However, they have to be willing to accept the concept that maybe, just maybe, they will lose the argument. If you are not willing to accept the notion that the majority may not agree with you, may NEVER agree with, and if you are not willing to rethink your ideas accordingly, you are not an intellect. You are just a rabid fanatic. Taliban anyone?
Jonathan Kahnoski - 2/27/2009 1:47:18 PM EST
I'm not one to scream "bias" at every small tilt of the press...but right now..wait for it...I'm screaming "BIAS!!!!!!!!!!"
There is a strong case to be made in favor of breaking up the media monopolies and lots of reasonable suspicions as to how those monopolies have limited the terms of debate in this country for a long time. (How many voices against the Iraq war were hearable to ordinary people back in 2003? Might have been nice if more people were aware of there was even a case against the war.) But I guess the writer is fully on board with the owners of the outlets who are many of his readers, so that's fine. He knows where his bread is buttered.
Bob Westal - 2/27/2009 1:09:47 PM EST
John, I challenge you to defend this outlandish statement:
"The Durbin amendment would hurt small, local radio stations that depend on popular syndicated programming for listeners and revenue."
Were you spun? Because this is the exact opposite of reality.
How does promoting diversity in ownership hurt small local owners? Did you not read the past FCC State of the Radio Industry reports? Or the other studies on minority ownership?
Women and minority owners are far more likely to be small local owners, and are far less likely to air syndicated content. The Durbin amendment simply reaffirms existing law (Section 257 & Section 309(j) of the Comm Act) that the FCC should encourage diversity in ownership -- i.e., the Durbin Amendment helps small local owners.
Better stenographers please.
DeMint's Ghost - 2/27/2009 9:34:07 AM EST
No related content found.
No Top Articles