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Rep. Mike Pence
An amendment proposed to the Financial Services Appropriation Bill that would have protected free speech by preventing the Federal Communications Commission from restoring the so-called Fairness Doctrine regulations to U.S. airwaves has been rejected by members of a U.S. House committee.
“Unfortunately, Democrats on the Rules Committee decided that the freedom of speech, though enshrined in the Constitution, is not a right they were willing to afford their colleagues in the House,” said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who along with Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., sponsored the plan.
“I am profoundly disappointed,” Pence said.
The Rules Committee voted 8-4 along party lines to reject the amendment that would have halted any proposals by the FCC that would restore the Fairness Doctrine, which was abandoned in 1987 under President Reagan.
Pence explained in a website statement that the First Amendment “is not a partisan issue; the preservation of constitutional freedoms should be the paramount duty of every elected representative and should take precedence over partisan gamesmanship or heavy-handedness.”
He said what made the decision by majority Democrats both disappointing and baffling was that more than 300 members of the House already have expressed support for broadcast freedom.
“Today, the interests of the American people and the interests of this august institution were not served,” Pence said. “Every time a vote concerning the freedom of a people, abroad or here at home, has come to the floor of the People’s House, freedom has always won; yet tonight freedom was blocked from getting even a chance to be voted on.”
A number of prominent Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have indicated a desire to see the FCC restore the speech restrictions. While the program under the Fairness Doctrine name is unlikely, the FCC has recently floated new rules that would add layers of restrictive oversight to radio programming.
“As a radio station operator of over 21 years, I can say from experience that there’s only one group qualified to judge a station’s performance: the listeners,” Walden said. “If they’re tuning in, you’re doing something right. If they’re not, it’s time to reconsider. Sounds simple enough, but some here in the nation’s capital want the government to intrude on that basic principle.”
In encouraging a “yes” vote on the issue, Pence said, “The American people cherish freedom, especially freedom of speech and of the press. That was why President Reagan repealed the so-called Fairness Doctrine back in 1987.
“For more than four decades, the federal government regulated the content of American talk radio and some of the most powerful Democrats in the House and Senate would like to see it restored. Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine today would amount to government control over political views expressed on the public airways,” he said.
Hedgecock said there are several reasons he’s worried:
“Genachowski will CENSOR talk radio hosts.
“Genachowski’s top priority will be to establish strict ‘localism’ requirements on broadcasters,” Hedgecock said. “Part of this plan is for the FCC to establish local community advisory boards (better named ‘commissar committees’) in towns and cities across the United States. These boards would be packed with left-leaning activists and ACORN-type groups, and they would monitor the airwaves and report back to the FCC as to whether or not radio stations and broadcasts were serving the local public interest. Any radio station or broadcast that doesn’t fit the bill could be subject to fines, or even having their broadcast license revoked.
“This, of course, isn’t about serving the local community – this is about empowering left-wing activist to shut down conservative talk radio.”
“Genachowski will CENSOR and REGULATE Internet speech.”
“Genachowski is an unabashed proponent of so-called ‘Net neutrality’ regulations. These regulations would give the FCC the power to tell Internet operators what online communications they must provide. In essence, this massive expansion of FCC power would amount to a ‘Fairness Doctrine’ for the Internet. It would trample the First Amendment rights of private companies and make the FCC ‘Editor in Chief’ when it comes to online communications,” he said.
“Genachowski will force RACIAL QUOTAS on broadcast companies.”
“One of the reasons President Obama picked Genachowski to head the FCC is to complete the president’s mission to bring ‘diversity’ to the broadcast industry. On May 7 of this year, Obama’s interim FCC Chairman Michael Copps went so far as to say that the current racial and gender makeup of broadcast corporations was responsible for minorities being ‘stereotyped and caricatured’ in today’s society,” Hedgecock said.
“That same day, Diversity Committee Chairman (and Fairness Doctrine supporter) Henry Rivera stated that the FCC would ‘move into a race-based rulemaking procedure’ should his committee determine that there are not enough women or minorities in high-level positions within broadcast corporations. Just what is a ‘race-based rulemaking procedure?’ … If Rivera and Genachowski think there aren’t enough minorities occupying top-level positions in broadcast companies – they’ll force those companies to hire and fire until they get the right ‘racial and gender mix.’”
“America is at a crucial crossroads,” Hedgecock said. “Our First Amendment rights are under attack on every front – from the Fairness Doctrine, to Net neutrality, to diversity and localism mandates for radio broadcasters. Our actions on these critical issues over the coming months will seal our fate for a long, long time to come.”
The so-called Fairness Doctrine at issue now in the U.S. was established in 1949 by the FCC to require broadcasters to provide “fair” programming, essentially demanding the broadcast of opposing views.
But the Supreme Court in 1969 ruled that while the policy did not violate a broadcaster’s First Amendment rights, if the doctrine ever began to restrain free speech, its constitutionality should be reviewed. In 1974, the court said the doctrine “dampens the vigor and limits the variety of public debate.”
Ten years later, the court found the rationale that opposing viewpoints should be required was flawed, and in 1987 the plan was abolished.