House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the National Religious Broadcasters convention Sunday (Feb. 27) that some members of Congress and "the federal bureaucracy" are still trying to reinstate "and even expand" the fairness doctrine. The fairness doctrine is the FCC policy--abandoned in 1987 as unconstitutional--that required broadcasters to seek out opposing viewpoints on issues of national importance. Boehner said in a speech to the convention that he expects the House to act on legislation that would make sure it was not revived.
The doctrine's demise is credited with the rise of conservative talk radio.
Boehner was preaching to the choir, since the NRB has long feared that Democrats would restore the doctrine, as some have signaled they wanted to. But both the President and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski are on the record saying the doctrine is not coming back.
Boehner is not taking any chances.
He said that like network neutrality rules, the doctrine is a "threat to freedom with an innocuous name." He called it a "censorship scheme from the 1940's mandating that competing viewpoints be offered on controversial topics." In other words, programming has to meet Washington’s definition of ‘balance.’
Boehner said that for fans of the doctrine, "it’s fair to silence ideas and voices they don’t agree with, and use the tools of government to do it...Our new majority is committed to seeing that the government does not reinstate the fairness doctrine. Congressman [Greg] Walden has teamed up with another former broadcaster, Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, to introduce legislation to help keep the airwaves free. I expect the House to act on this measure."
Walden, chair of the House Communications & Internet Subcommittee, and Pence tried to block reinstatement of the doctrine with a Broadcaster Freedom amendment to the Financial Services Appropriations bill in the last Congress. Asked whether the Speaker was referring to reintroduction of that bill, or something else, a Boehner spokesman, Michael Steel would only say: "stay tuned."
Boehner’s cautionary stories and bold stands would be inspirational if
they were connected to reality," said Free Press President Josh
Silver. "Instead, he is parroting talking points from industry
lobbyists, front groups and intentionally misleading the public. The
FCC’s Open Internet rules will have the opposite effect of what Mr.
Boehner claims: They would prevent companies from unfairly blocking or
degrading Internet websites and applications."
Free Press did not support the FCC's new rules, preferring they be stronger.
The FCC had no comment at press time.
Separately, Republicans are trying to defund the position of FCC Chief Diversity Officer Mark Lloyd, who ran afoul of Republican legislators from past writings critical of conservative talk radio. Lloyd fired back in a 2009 speech: "I am not at the FCC to restore the fairness doctrine through the front door or the back door, or to carry out a secret plot funded by George Soros to get rid of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or any other conservative talk show host."
In response to the move to de-fund the post, the FCC said two weeks ago in a statement: "As Congress recognized when it directed the FCC to promote diversity in communications, diversity is important to American prosperity and its strength as a nation. For more than 18 months, Mark Lloyd has helped the Commission pursue this Congressional objective, contributing on many important initiatives – like working to bridge the digital divide by increasing broadband adoption among hard-pressed Americans."