Senate Rejects Fairness Doctrine, But Dems ‘Open Back Door to Censorship’

By Susan Jones | February 27, 2009 | 6:28am EST
( – The Senate passed a Broadcaster Freedom Amendment to a D.C. voting rights bill on Thursday by a vote of 87-11. But Democrats countered with an amendment that seeks to promote “diversity” in media ownership.
The Broadcaster Freedom Amendment prevents the Federal Communications Commission from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, which would requires equal time for the expression of different political viewpoints on the public airwaves. Radio stations that run conservative talks shows, for example, would be required to allot equal time for liberal talk shows – or, more likely, stop airing the conservative shows altogether.
Critics of the Fairness Doctrine call it an assault on free speech. They say the government has no business deciding what constitutes fair political discourse.
On Thursday, Republican supporters of the Broadcaster Freedom Amendment said its passage “slammed the front door” on the Fairness Doctrine. But they admit their fight for free speech is not over.
The Senate on Thursday also passed an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that seeks to achieve the same goals of the Fairness Doctrine through backdoor FCC regulations, Republican critics say.
Durbin’s amendment requires the FCC to “take actions to encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership." Republicans view the “diversity” call as an attempt to muzzle successful syndicated radio programs. They  say 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 it.
“Senator Durbin’s amendment exposed Democrat intentions to impose radio censorship through the back door, using vague regulations dealing with media ownership,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). “Senator Durbin’s language was so broad, it could apply beyond radio to television, newspapers and the Internet. All eyes are now on the FCC. If they attempt to shut down free speech indirectly, we will fight to stop them,” DeMint added.
“It was reassuring to see the Senate stand up for free speech today,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). “However, I am troubled that as we killed the ‘Fairness Doctrine,’ Senator Durbin’s amendment brought to life a new threat to talk radio and other arenas of free speech. Senator DeMint and I, along with others, will continue to stand up to efforts to limit the expression of differing opinions and free speech on talk radio, TV, and the Internet,” said Thune.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) hailed the bipartisan vote in support of the Broadcaster Freedom Act. “Today is a tremendous victory for free speech and the First Amendment, and while I am sure liberals will continue to look for another way to attack conservative radio, I will be standing with my colleagues to ensure that doesn’t happen,” Inhofe said.
As reported earlier, Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps says he doesn’t support the return of the Fairness Doctrine, but he does think government has a role in enforcing media “diversity.” That role includes re-examining licensing and other regulations for radio stations -- including AM stations dominated by talk radio -- to make them “more reflective” of public interests.
The fight over the Fairness Doctrine is "yesterday’s fight,” Copps told earlier this month. But he also stressed the need to make radio broadcasts more “reflective” of the public interest. (See earlier story)

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