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Republicans Introduce Bills Opposing Fairness Doctrine

Obama opposes doctrine, but House and Senate Republicans Hedging bets. 1/08/2009 03:52:00 AM Eastern

Bills were introduced by House and Senate Republicans yesterday to try and make sure Democrats don't attempt to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine.

"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 National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton. "NAB salutes these lawmakers for their dedication to ensuring Americans have continued access to a free and robust press unfettered from government interference."

Those lawmakers were Sens. John Thune and Jim DeMint, both of South Carolina, and Reps. Mike Pence (IN) and Greg Walden (OR). Both bills would prevent the FCC from reimposing the doctrine. The Pence bill, introduced Wednesday, has more than 125 co-sponsors.

Republican Chairman Kevin Martin repeatedly said he had not intention of reimposing the doctrine, but Republicans and conservative talk show hosts are concerned that with Democrats controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, there could be a push for reimposition.

The doctrine, which was dropped by the FCC in 1987, required broadcasters to air both sides of controversial issues. It's fall coincided with the rise of conservative talk radio stars like Rush Limbaugh and later Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and others.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not ruled it out, though an aide to then-Senator Barack Obama told B&C he does not support its return. But conservative columnist George Will predicted the doctrine would return with Obama's election, and several Democrats made pro-doctrine comments that concerned Republicans.

Attempts were made to pass similar bills in the last Congress, including by Pence. In fact, the House passed a bill sponsored by Mike 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.

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