Fairness Doctrine: Complete Coverage from Broadcasting & Cable
The Senate voted Thursday 87-11 to prevent the FCC from reinstating the fairness doctrine, not that the FCC had indicated plans to do so.
The vote was on an amendment, itself amended, to an unrelated bill, the D.C. Voting Rights Act.
For that vote to block fairness reimposition to stand, the Voting Rights Act needs to pass in the Senate and the fairness amendment would have so survive a conference process with the House version.
The Broadcaster Freedom Act, introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), could initially have also prevented the commission from taking some proposed steps to bolster localism, including setting up advisory boards to give broadcasters guidance on public interest programming.
Those have been criticized by some Republicans as a back-door attempt to reinstate the doctrine.
The Broadcaster Freedom Act, would have prohibited "any similar requirement that broadcasters meet programming quotas or guidelines for issues o20 public importance.''
But that language was struck by a second amendment, introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-ILL), that instead, explicitly reaffirmed the commission's power to seek to promote diversity in media ownership.
The Durbin amendment passed on a straight party line vot, 57-41, while the larger fairness doctrine-blocking bill passed 81-11.
Free Press praised Durbin for rejecting the fairness doctrine hysterics." The move also created a bill that the Democrats could pass if they wanted to try and quell the ongoing doctrine debate.
DeMint introduced his fairness doctrine-blocking bill last month.
Attempts were made to pass similar bills in the last Congress. In fact, the House passed a bill sponsored by Pence, a former radio talk show host himself, that put a one-year moratorium on funding any Federal Communications Commission reimposition of the doctrine. Democrats, led by David Obey (D-Wis.), suggested that the amendment was a red herring, a nonissue 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 other Democrats suggested that the sticking point was the current administration, and some big names, including Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), talked about the possibility of bringing it back.
Durbin's amendment may have opened the door for yet more fairness doctrine debate, however, which has been fueled by both Democrats suggesting the doctrine could come back and talk radio hosts convinced that is in the Democrats' playbook.
"Today's vote slammed the front door on the so-called ‘fairness doctrine,' which threatens to censor free speech and shut down talk radio," said DeMint in a statement on his Web site. "When senators were forced to vote in the open on this issue, they were compelled to side with the American people."
But he also said the Durbin amendment "seeks to achieve the same goals of the fairness doctrine through backdoor FCC regulations. "His legislation forces the FCC to "take actions to encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership," an attempt to muzzle successful syndicated radio programs.
However, the Senate also passed an amendment by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) that seeks to achieve the same goals of the fairness doctrine through backdoor FCC regulations. His legislation forces the FCC to "take actions to encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership," an attempt to muzzle successful syndicated radio programs. The Durbin amendment would hurt small, local radio stations that depend on popular syndicated programming for listeners and revenue. The Durbin amendment passed 57-41; no Republican supported his legislation.
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below
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.