Schumer Comments Prompt New Fairness Doctrine Concerns

National Religious Broadcasters say his comments "foreshadowed an intolerance of ideas"

Comments by New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer have provided new urgency to talk radio's and others' concerns about the reimposition of the fairness doctrine under a Democrat-controlled government.

While President-elect Barack Obama has told B&C twice through a top aide that he has no interest in bringing the doctrine back, the same apparently cannot be said for other powerful Democrats including Schumer. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has not ruled it out, either.

In an interview on Fox that was getting radio airplay Wednesday, Schumer said that the same people who say the FCC should be able to regulate "pornography" on the air don't want it to intervene to promote fairness and balance, calling that inconsistent. The doctrine, jettisoned by the FCC in 1987 as unconstitutional, required broadcasters to air both sides of controversial issues. Its demise let to the rise of opinionated, conservative talkers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

The National Religious Broadcasters, for one, was concerned enough about Schumer's comments to issue a press release Wednesday saying it "foreshadowed an intolerance of ideas."

NRB, which supports the FCC's indecency crackdown, took issue with Schumer linking the two.

“I was stunned by Senator Schumer’s suggestion that by keeping filth off the air, the federal government has somehow become empowered to take over the control of legitimate programming content of broadcasters," said Craig Parshall, senior VP and general counsel for NRB and author of its brief supporting the FCC on indecency enforcement. "That paints a very grim picture for the future of broadcasting freedoms, particularly for Christian broadcasters.

"We see nothing inconsistent about permitting the FCC to rid the airwaves of that kind of gratuitous indecency that Justice Scalia referred to in oral argument as having contributed to the ‘coarsening’ of America, but at the same time opposing, as NRB has, the return of the dreaded Fairness Doctrine. Free Speech should never be sacrificed on the altar of a false choice."

He said that neither the Supreme Court nor the Constitution makes censoring "politically incorrect" ideas the quid pro quo for being able to regulate "profanity and smut" on broadcast TV and radio.