Grassley Seeks Fairness Doctrine Clarification

Senator concerned by diversity advisor Lloyd's past writing on "imbalance" of political talk radio

Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa has asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to reaffirm his opposition to re-imposition of the Fairness Doctrine, prompted by the FCC's appointment of Mark Lloyd as the FCC's chief diversity officer.

The doctrine is the scrapped FCC policy that broadcasters had an affirmative obligation to seek out opposing viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance.

In a letter to Genachowski posted on the Senator's Web site, Grassley said he had "serious reservations" that the chairman was backing away from statements made to Grassley in a meeting prior to Genachowski's confirmation in the Senate that the chairman "did not support an effort to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine."

Genachowkski said the same thing more recently in an interview with B&C.

But Grassley said he had "serious reservations that you may be moving away from these statements you made to me regarding the Fairness Doctrine given the appointment of Mr. Lloyd to a position within the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) at the FCC."

Grassley said he was concerned by Lloyd's writings as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he was co-author of a June 2007 paper, "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio."

Lloyd's appointment to the diversity post also created a flurry of comment in the blogosphere from those familiar with the paper, in which Lloyd and nine other co-authors suggest ways to balance talk radio, including station ownership caps, more licensing oversight and allowing stations who do not want to meet public interest benchmarks to pay a fee to support public broadcasters.

Grassley concedes that Lloyd and company did not specifically call for the doctrine's reinstatement, but said that "taken together, these statements represent a view that the FCC needs to expand its regulatory arm further into the commercial radio market," a view with which Grassley strongly takes issue.

A number of fairness doctrine critics, including FCC Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell, have said that efforts to reduce the license term, or community advisory boards proposed, though not yet adopted, by the FCC, could represent a back-door return of the doctrine by chilling speech. Grassley shares that sentiment. "I am concerned that despite his statements that the Fairness Doctrine is unnecessary, Mr. Lloyd supports a backdoor method of furthering the goals of the Fairness Doctrine by other means," he tells Genachowski.

Grassley asks the chairman to clarify by extending his opposition to "any new restrictions, fines, fees, or licensing requirements on commercial radio that would effectively create a backdoor Fairness Doctrine."

The FCC does not typically comment on letters, but an FCC spokesperson was checking at press time.