(CNSNews.com) – More than 400,000 Americans have signed petitions urging Congress to hold a vote on the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009, which would permanently ban reimplementation of the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," which was used by the Federal Communications Commission to regulate discussion of public policy and politics on the radio before it was thrown out in the 1980s by an FCC dominated by Reagan appointees.
It was only after the Fairness Doctrine was revoked that public-policy oriented talk radio, led by Rush Limbaugh, began to flourish. The doctrine had required that when any broadcast station discussed an issue of public controversy opposing sides of the controversy had to be given an opportunity to express their views on the air on that station. As a result, radio station largely avoided discussing controversial issues.
The 400,000 petitions to permanently ban the Fairness Doctrine, gathered by the grassroots activist group the Free Speech Alliance, were sent to Capitol Hill this week for delivery to the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
The Free Speech Alliance is led by the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group, that is the parent organization of CNSNews.com. Some members of the Alliance include Concerned Women for America, Americans for Tax Reform, the Discovery Institute, and talk-radio hosts Lars Larson and Rusty Humphries, as well as Clear Channel Communications, which owns more than 300 talk-radio stations.
The Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009 was sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.)
If passed, the bill would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to stipulate that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) cannot, by law, require talk radio stations to broadcast varying views on controversial issues as was the case under the Fairness Doctrine
Conservative critics have charged that reimplementation of a Fairness-Doctrine-type regulatory regime, often referred to as the “Hush Rush Doctrine” and “The Censorship Doctrine,” would essentially end conservative talk radio programs because it would cost too many stations too much money to meet the regulation’s requirements.
Many congressional Democrats have expressed support for reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, or some variation thereof, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
President Barack Obama has suggested that he does not support instating the "Fairness Doctrine" per se, but the White House has proposed guidelines to “Encourage Diversity in Media Ownership” that could result in forcing conservative broadcasters to surrender their broadcast licenses to new owners who would not broadcast conservative content.
This policy, as posted on the White House Web site in March, states: “Encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expressions of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum.”
An amendment echoing those diversity-in-ownership rules was attached to a D.C. Voting Rights bill and passed in April. Representative Pence described that amendment as a “stealth Fairness Doctrine." Also attached to the D.C. Voting Rights bill was an amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to permanently ban the Fairness Doctrine. While that amendment also passed, along party lines, the overall bill is still stuck in conference.
Pence’s Broadcaster Freedom Act says that the FCC “shall not have the authority to prescribe any rule, regulation, policy, doctrine, standard, or other requirement that has the purpose or effect of reinstating or repromulgating (in whole or in part) the requirement that broadcasters present opposing viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance, commonly referred to as the ‘Fairness Doctrine.’”
In announcing the delivery of the Free Speech Alliance’s petitions’ delivery to Congress, Media Research Center President L. Brent Bozell III said: “The Fairness Doctrine is a simple effort by the radical left in America to put conservative talk radio out of business.”
But as long as Americans believe in the First Amendment, the Fairness Doctrine or similar regulations, can be stopped, he said, and went on to urge people to call the offices of Pelosi and Reid and demand a stand-alone vote on the Broadcaster Freedom Act.
“Let them know that this country is not run by Hugo Chavez,” said Bozell. “This is the kind of thing that he does in Venezuela. We don’t do this in the United States of America. We believe in the principle of freedom. We believe in the principle of free speech, and we’re going to defend it with everything we’ve got.”
Pelosi’s office did not respond to inquiries about the petitions. Regan Lachapelle, deputy communications director in Reid’s office, said she was not familiar with the Free Speech Alliance petitions. However, she referenced the Pence amendment -- stuck in conference in the D.C. Voting Rights bill.
In an e-mail to CNSNews.com, Lachapelle also said: "I should also add that with so many important issues confronting our nation and so many for us to address, we do not need to make up problems that do not exist."