Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has joined up with other influential Democrats, including President Bill Clinton, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, in calling for a resurrection of the so-called “Fairness Doctrine”.
The policy, originally introduced in 1949, required that radio and television stations with a broadcast license air contrasting views on matters of public importance. The policy made it practically impossible for talk radio to make a profit, because the market would not bear a lineup with an equal number of programs from the left and right. Since the Fairness Doctrine was abandoned in 1987, more than 2,000 radio stations have adopted a talk radio format.
But talk radio is dominated by conservatives, and Democrats in recent years have discussed restoring the policy, although during the Bush administration their plans went nowhere because of the president’s vow to veto it.
Now, however, the White House appears more receptive, and Brown’s recent comments add to the chorus seeking government regulation of talk radio, and possibly other formats.
“I support the goals underlying the Fairness Doctrine. Democracies rely on a
dispassionate press that reports the facts with objectivity and presents a
diversity of perspectives in its editorial content,” Brown wrote to a constituent who asked for the senator’s perspective.
The question and response were forwarded to WND.
“When a single ideology
dominates the press – whether it is liberal or conservative – the line
between information and propaganda can easily become blurred,” Brown wrote.
Besides Clinton, Harkin and Stabenow, other leading Democrats have suggested support for the regulations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., affirmed her support to Human Events reporter John Gizzi for a “fairness” policy, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., told radio 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].”
Michael G. Franc, writing on the National Review’s “The Corner” blog, noted that Attorney General Eric Holder also has refused to commit to opposing the idea.
The issue, while not formally proposed in Congress to this point, is getting a lot of attention because GOP opponents have tried to push through legislation that specifically would prevent the doctrine from returning.
They also are concerned that the issue will return under another name or procedure, such as a proposal to allow “local” boards to oversee radio station content and make decisions at that level.
Another concern is proposals, touted by the White House, to “diversify” ownership of media outlets.
Today, an amendment by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint that would outlaw the “Fairness Doctrine” passed by an 87-11 vote. But Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin an alternative, which passed 57-41, that would encourage “diversity” of media ownership and “ensure that the public airwaves are used in the public interest.”
Brown’s office did not respond to WND e-mails and telephone messages requesting comment.
The response from Brown to a constituent included a description of the background of the doctrine.
The 1949 plan was crafted, Brown said, “to prevent privately owned stations from jeopardizing the public airwaves and presenting one single perspective.”
After it was dropped in the 1987, Brown wrote, that left “judgment of what is one-sided or unfair … to broadcasters and the viewing public.”
If there does become a law or regulation resurrecting the plan, at least two organizations already have pledged to challenge it in court.
Michael Savage (San Francisco Chronicle)
Talk radio icon Michael Savage has reported joining forces with a Michigan-based civil rights advocacy organization to establish a battle plan to oppose the doctrine.
“A regulation of speech motivated by nothing more than a desire to silence political opposition on controversial issues of public interest is the purest example of a law abridging the freedom of speech,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center.
“Such action is the hallmark of totalitarian governments, not a free society,” he said.
“Michael Savage is the personification of what the liberals hate about conservative talk radio,” said Thompson, “and we’re proud to represent him in this crucial battle to preserve the grand purpose of political speech protected by the First Amendment.
Just days earlier, the American Center for Law and Justice said its “litigation strategy” is prepared should the doctrine – or a similar regulatory measure – “be brought back to muzzle Christian broadcasting.”
The organization said more than 230,000 people have signed its petition urging members of Congress to support the Broadcaster Freedom Act.