VP Contender Pence a Veteran Fairness Doctrine Fighter

Conservative Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who is presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump's pick for vice president, is well known in communications circles as a big opponent of the FCC's fairness doctrine -- a sentiment he shares with the National Association of Broadcasters -- and a big proponent of a federal shield law, sharing that sentiment with network and local news outlets around the country.

Pence is familiar to broadcasters as the former syndicated radio talk show host who, while an Indiana congressman (2000-2012), teamed up with Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), currently the chair of the House Communications Subcommittee, to block what they saw as a potential return of the "fairness doctrine."

The doctrine, which the FCC scrapped as unconstitutional in 1987 and finally, officially took off the books in 2011, required broadcasters to air both sides of issues of public importance. Its demise helped spur the rise of conservative talk radio stars like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

But Pence is also familiar in media circles for his support for journalists, which would put him somewhat at odds with the top of the ticket.

Trump has made a habit of hammering journalists and news outlets for unfavorable stories. He has signaled he might like to see libel laws opened up so he could more easily sue media outlets, pulled The Washington Post's convention coverage credentials over a headline and story he didn't like, and has called journalists dishonest, sleazy and much more.

Unlike Trump, Pence has been effusive in his praise of journalists and the need to tell truth to the powerful.

“As a conservative who believes in limited government, I believe the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press," he said in a 2009 speech celebrating World Freedom Day. "A free press ensures the flow of information to the public, and let me say, during a time when the role of government in our lives and in our enterprises seems to grow every day – both at home and abroad – ensuring the vitality of a free and independent press is more important than ever."

Pence also spearheaded a House bill, opposed by the Obama Administration, that would have established a federal shield law, the Free Flow of Information Act, which would have granted a qualified privilege to reporters to prevent them from being compelled to testify or to give up confidential sources to federal investigators.

The then-congressman also co-sponsored the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act to expand the State Department's examination of international press freedom in its annual human rights report.

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.