Democrat Henry Rivera, a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, is expected to head President-elect Barack Obama’s FCC transition team, a move that has sparked fear in media circles that the Fairness Doctrine may return to silence conservative talk radio.
If reenacted, the “Fairness Doctrine” would require broadcasts over the public airwaves to give equal time to opposing political views. For talk radio, which boomed after the law’s repeal in 1987 by building an audience devoted to conservative talk, the law’s return would decimate the industry’s marketability.
Many fear the “Fairness Doctrine” would drive talk radio hosts – like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage – out of business.
Brian Maloney of the blog The Radio Equalizer said in his post, “Meet Talk’s Executioner,” he believes Rivera will use his position to bring back the law for that very purpose.
Rivera, according to Maloney, “is expected to lead the push to dismantle commercial talk radio that is favored by a number of Democratic Party senators. Rivera will play a pivotal role in preventing critics from having a public voice during Obama’s tenure in office.”
Rivera served on the five-member FCC from 1981 to 1985 under Republican chairman Mark Fowler. He is now a partner at the Wiley Rein law firm, the same firm current FCC chairman Kevin Martin worked at prior to his appointment to the FCC.
Rivera resigned from the FCC in 1985. The remainder of his term was served by President Reagan appointee Patricia Diaz Dennis, who opposed the Fairness Doctrine. The law was then repealed in 1987 after the FCC admitted it “had the net effect of reducing rather than enhancing the discussion of controversial issues of public importance.”
Rivera himself has not confirmed his selection as Obama’s FCC transition team chief, first reported by Multichannel News.
“The only thing I can tell you is that there will be a release of the folks involved in that,” Rivera told the News. “I just can’t comment on anything. They told us not to talk to the press.”
Rivera also declined to answer WND’s request for his position on reinstating the Fairness Doctrine.
Obama’s position on the law also remains unclear.
“Sen. Obama does not support reimposing the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters,” campaign press secretary Michael Ortiz told Broadcasting & Cable earlier this year. “He considers this debate to be a distraction from the conversation we should be having about opening up the airwaves and modern communications to as many diverse viewpoints as possible.”
As WND reported, ATI-News President Brad O’Leary examined Obama’s legal and organizational attempts to silence media detractors during the presidential race and came to a different conclusion.
“Barack Obama has shown a stunning lack of tolerance for free speech throughout the course of this campaign,” said O’Leary. “His presidency, combined with supermajorities for Democrats in Congress, would almost certainly bring back the so-called ‘Fairness Doctrine’ and allow the Democrats to snuff out any broadcasters with whom they disagree.”
Democrats in Congress have been more definitive in advocating the “Fairness Doctrine.”
In June, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., affirmed her support to Human Events reporter John Gizzi.
Speaking on Albuquerque station KKOB, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., told host Jim Villanucci, “I would want this station and all stations to have to present a balanced perspective and different points of view, instead of always hammering away at one side of the political [spectrum].”
Bingaman said, “For many, many years, we operated under a Fairness Doctrine in this country. I think the country was well-served. I think the public discussion was at a higher level and more intelligent in those days than it has become since.”
Rush Limbaugh, the most-listened to radio host in American history, however, blasted Bingaman’s comment that there were “a lot of talk stations” before 1987.
“A 125 radio stations talking about carrot cake recipes for the holidays,” Limbaugh said. “Senator Bingaman, do you know how many talk-radio stations there are in America today? Try over 2,000 since the Fairness Doctrine was lifted, and on those 2,000 radio stations are countless points of view, from the extreme communist left to the wacko whatever it is way out on the fringe right. They’re all over the place.”
Republican Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana has opposed to the Fairness Doctrine by introducing the Broadcasters Freedom Act, arguing that lifting the restrictive law has “opened the public airwaves to free and vigorous discussion of controversial issues by individuals of all political stripes.”
“Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine would amount to government control over political views expressed on the public airwaves,” Pence said. “It is a dangerous proposal to suggest the government should be in the business of rationing free speech.”
Pence, a former broadcaster, said his Broadcasters Freedom Act would ensure that “true freedom and fairness will remain on our radio airwaves.”