McCain Backs Bill to Block Fairness Doctrine


Republican Rep. Mike Pence's effort to block reimposition of the fairness doctrine has found an opposite number on the Senate side.

Late Friday, Senator and presidential candidate John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined with two other Republicans, Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn..) to introduce the Broadcaster Freedom Act.

The fairness doctrine, said McCain, "had a chilling affect on free speech, and it is hard to imagine that the American people would support reinstating a policy where the Federal government would be required to police the airwaves to ensure differing viewpoints are offered.”

The doctrine, which the FCC declared unconstitutional in 1987, required broadcasters to air both sides of issues of public importance. The Supreme Court had found that the doctrine chilled debate. The doctrine's departure paved the way for the rise of primarily conservative talk radio.

Like Pence's bill, which he was working on last week, it would prevent the FCC from reimposing the fairness doctrine, though the FCC is unlikely to do that under the current administration. The greater fear is that a Democratic-led Congress that faced an avalanche of immigration-bill criticism driven in large part by talk radio might try to bring it back.

Several Democratic Senators have said as much, which prompted Pence to craft his bill as well as an amendment that passed easily in the House this week that would not allow the FCC to spend any 2008 dollars on implementing a fairness doctrine rule.

House Democrats have called the fairness doctrine issue a red herring and put a point on that characterization by essentially  putting up no opposition to it, but Senators including John Kerry of Massachusetts and Diane Feinstein of California have been talking lately about bringing it back. That would likely have to wait for a Democrat in the White House, however, something they are also looking at bringing back