The ayes had it Thursday after the House overwhelmingly passed an amendment 310 to 15 an appropriations bill that prevents the FCC from spending any money in 2008 to reinstate the fairness doctrine.
The amendment had been introduced by former talk radio host and current Republican Legislator from Indiana Mike Pence, who also was preparing a bill that would permanently prevent the FCC from trying to reinstate it, not that Democrats were expecting the Republican-led FCC to do that, several Democrats said Thursday on the House floor.
Numerous Republicans stood up to criticize any attempt to reinstate the fairness doctrine, calling it unfair, a threat to the First Amendment, directed at conservative talk radio, and the "leftist censorship doctrine," among other things.
Democrats, led by David Obey (D-Wis.) suggested the amendment was a red herring, a non-issue 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 several Democrats and Republicans suggested the debate over the doctrine was not over, but just beginning. Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said that there may not have been a fairness doctrine item on the House agenda, but he believed that it is "clearly on the agenda of debate in the country."
Media ownership critic Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who has backed reimposing the doctrine, said the amendment was a non-issue because the Republican administration would never do it. President Ronald Reagan vetoed a congressional attempt to reinstate the doctrine soon after it was jettisoned by the FCC.
But Kucinich did say that the FCC under a future administration might indeed reimpose the doctrine. The amendment would only bar monies in fiscal year 2008.
"It is exactly that next administration that we are concerned about," said Pence, adding that he did not want to leave the FCC with the resources or authority to rereguate the public airwaves."
Kucinich said the real issue was media concentration, a point echoed by Diane Watson (D-Calif.)
There is currently no legislation to reinstate the doctrine, which the FCC invalidated as unconstitutional in 1987, but several Democratic senators, including Dick Durbin of Illinois, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Diane Feinstein of California had gone on record supporting at least looking into reinstating it.
Those calls appeared to be spurred, in part, by a talk radio campaign against the immigration reform bill that seemed to have been effective--the bill essentially died a second time Thursday and is unlikely to be revived before the 2008 elections.
Rep. John Dingell (D- Mich.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who chair the committee and subcommittee that oversee communications policy issues, have also asked the National Telecommunications & Information Administration to investigate the connection, if any, between broadcast speech and the commission of hate crimes.