FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has reasserted his opposition to reinstating the fairness doctrine, which once required broadcasters to cover both sides of issues of public importance.
In a letter to Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ill.) published on the legislator's Web site Wednesday, Martin says: "In my judgment, the events of the last two decades have confirmed the wisdom of the Commission’s decision to abolish the Fairness Doctrine. Discussion of controversial issues over the airwaves has flourished absent regulatory constraints, and the public now enjoys access to an ever-expanding range of views and opinions.
"Indeed, with the continued proliferation of additional sources of information and programming,including satellite broadcasting and the Internet, the need for the Fairness Doctrine has lessened ever further since 1987. In short, I see no compelling reason to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine in today’s broadcast environment, and believe that such a step would inhibit the robust discussion of issues of public concern over the nation’s airwaves."
Martin has said before he was no fan of the doctrine, which was scrapped as unconstitutional by theFCC in 1987, but Pence, a former radio talk show host, was seeking reassurances after Democratic Senators started talking about bringing it back.
A Pence-backed bill to expressly prohibit the FCC from reinstating it passed easily in the Housewithout debate, but a similar bill was blocked in the Senate, even while Democrats were saying it was simply a grandstand play by Republicans to give fodder to conservative talk radio hosts.
The fall of the doctrine helped give rise to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and other opinionated conservatives. Talk of reviving the doctrine by Democrats including former Presidential candidate
John Kerry was spurred in part by talk radio's role in defeating an immigration reform bill that many conservatives saw as amnesty in "pathway to citizenship's" clothing.
Pence thanked Martin for his support, but said Congress still needed to pass his bill to make sure: "We commend the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission for his commitment to free and independent airwaves in America," he said.
"Chairman Martin’s comments should encourage millions who cherish the vigorous debate of American talk radio. Nevertheless it is imperative that Congress pass the Broadcaster Freedom Act to ensure that no future administration or FCC chairman have the power to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine without an act of Congress. Congress should heed the call of Chairman Martin and permanently reject the Fairness Doctrine by enacting the Broadcast Freedom Act into law.”