Vote to End Fairness Doctrine Not in Works, Hoyer Says

January 7, 2009 - 7:49 PM
The House Democratic leadership currently has no plans to bring the Broadcaster Freedom Act – which would permanently ban the Fairness Doctrine – up for a vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told CNSNews.com at the Capitol on Wednesday.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) (Photo courtesy of Hoyer's Web site)

(CNSNews.com) -  The House Democratic leadership, which controls the legislative schedule, currently has no plans to bring the Broadcaster Freedom Act – which would permanently ban the Fairness Doctrine – up for a vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told CNSNews.com at the Capitol on Wednesday.
 
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans on Wednesday unveiled legislation identical to the Broadcaster Freedom Act , with the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.)
 
The Fairness Doctrine was a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation that required broadcasters to grant equal airtime to opposing viewpoints. The rule was rolled back during the Reagan administration.
 
One result of that was the market demand for conservative talk radio and the rise of popular programs such as the Rush Limbaugh Show and the Sean Hannity Show, among many others.
 
In recent years, however, Democratic leaders, including Hoyer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) have spoken in favor of restoring the doctrine.
 
In 2007, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act to strip FCC officials of the power to restore the doctrine. Pence’s bill, however, was not brought to the floor for a vote because of opposition from Democratic leadership.
 
“That has not been discussed, and I do not contemplate it, but I have not discussed it with the committees,” Hoyer told CNSNews.com on Tuesday when asked if the Democratic leadership would schedule a vote on the ban this year. “There is a lot of discussion from the other side on the Fairness Doctrine but less discussion on our side. That has not been a major item.”
 
In the summer of 2008, Hoyer told CNSNews.com that the bill probably would not be voted on in the 110th Congress and suggested that he would support reactivating the Fairness Doctrine to “ensure the availability of fair and balanced information to the American public.”
 
 “There is a real concern about the monopoly of information and the skewering of information that the American public gets,” said Hoyer.
  
At a press conference on Wednesday, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) announced the Senate version of the Broadcaster Freedom Act, which they said will have a better chance of reaching the floor for a vote because Senate rules often favor the minority party.
 
Sources in the Democratic leadership who spoke to CNSNews.com on background criticized the Republicans’ effort by noting that President-elect Barack Obama has not endorsed the Fairness Doctrine, that the Democratic leadership in Congress seems unconcerned with the issue, and that even House Minority Leader Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested it would be a non-issue in the 111th Congress.
 
In August 2008, Boehner told CNSNews.com he doubted the Fairness Doctrine would be reactivated, as some Democrats in Congress have proposed, even if the November election yielded a Democratic president and a Democratic majority in Congress. “I do not believe that the majority of the Congress is in favor of the Fairness Doctrine, despite Speaker Pelosi’s support for it,” Boehner told CNSNews.com.
 
During the campaign, an Obama spokesman also made a statement opposing reinstitution of the regulation.
 
Senator Obama does not support re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters,” press secretary Michael Ortiz said in an e-mail to Broadcasting and Cable magazine on July 23.
 
Republicans told CNSNews.com at the press conference that even if the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine is not an imminent threat in the current political climate, lawmakers need to move now to ensure it is permanently banned.
 
“If you wait till the train’s already gone, it’s too late,” DeMint told CNSNews.com.
 
Republicans also said that by drawing attention to the issue, they are holding Democrats who favor restoring the doctrine at bay.
 
“I think our efforts and the public efforts we have engaged in have scared off a lot of leadership from putting the Fairness Doctrine back in place,” Walden told CNSNews.com. “We have awakened a lot of people around the country about what is coming.”
 
McConnell also expressed his support for the Broadcaster Freedom Act in a statement to CNSNews.com on Wednesday.
 
“Republicans stand ready to protect the First Amendment and stop any efforts to take away a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution,” said McConnell. “Government is not the speech police and I will not support these efforts to restrict free speech. We should encourage, not silence, political discourse in America.”
 
In 2007, Pence added an amendment to a Financial Services appropriations bill that put a one-year moratorium on reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine. While the House Democratic leadership opposed the amendment, 113 Democrats supported it, and the bill passed with 309 votes.
 
In 2008, after the House Democratic leadership refused to allow a vote on the Broadcaster Freedom Act, Pence circulated a discharge petition to force a vote. No Democrats signed on, and with only 194 supporters so far, it has fallen short of the 218 votes needed to trigger a vote.