McDowell Still Concerned About Stealth 'Fairness Doctrine"

Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said he will continue to speak out about his concerns that the Fairness Doctrine could return in another guise.

At a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters in Washington Thursday, he conceded that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and President Obama have said on several occasions they are not interested in reviving the doctrine. But he still said he had concerns that "a series of new broadcast regulations, operating in tandem, could achieve the old Doctrine’s 'viewpoint balancing' objective through a different route."

He was preaching to the choir and acknowledged as much, saying NRB had produced some thoughtful analysis on problems with the doctrine.

Those would include a particular combination of the localism proposals the commission is currently considering.

"If, for instance, the Commission were to require stations to fill out content-prescriptive disclosure forms that hinted at the government’s programming preference, then coupled that action with shorter license terms and mandated community advisory boards empowered to shape programming decisions, wouldn’t we be back to where we were before 1987?" That was the year that the FCC scrapped the doctrine as unconstitutional. "Political speech control by big government is something I will always fight to prevent."

The doctrine required broadcasters to seek out opposing viewpoints on issues of public importance. It's demise is credited with the rise of opinionated talk radio.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.