As Democrats increasingly discuss restoring the so-called “Fairness Doctrine,” a public-interest legal group has assembled a battle plan to oppose the policy, which had the practical effect of virtually eliminating the talk radio market.
Meanwhile, a poll has revealed that nearly half of Americans oppose the policy but think Congress will bring it back anyway.
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 – which would prevent the Fairness Doctrine.
The Fairness Doctrine, 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 – the vast majority identified as politically conservative – have adopted a talk radio format.
“There’s a constant drumbeat on Capitol Hill to bring back regulations that would be devastating to Christian broadcasters – regulations that would put the government in control of telling broadcasters what to air,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ.
“While we support congressional action that would prohibit the return of the Fairness Doctrine, we’re formulating our litigation strategy in the event this discriminatory regulation is put in place. Putting the federal government in control of dictating the content of what’s aired would effectively muzzle Christian broadcasters and is an unconstitutional attempt to stifle free speech,” Sekulow said.
“Whether Congress moves to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, or if the FCC acts to do so on its own behalf, we will be ready to challenge this in federal court,” he said.
The organization’s analysis of the current Democratic move to build support for the “Fairness Doctrine” calls it “nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt by some liberal members of Congress to silence the conservatives who oppose them.”
The ACLJ’s strategy comes just as a new report from RasmussenReports.com reveals that only 38 percent of U.S. voters believe the government should require radio stations to offer “equal” amounts of conservative and liberal political commentary.
The report said 47 percent oppose such demands, a drop of support for the government policy of 9 percent in just the past few months. The report said only 26 percent of voters think conservatives have an unfair advantage in the media, an argument on which much of the congressional support for new regulations is based.
However, Rasmussen also reported 51 percent believe it is at least somewhat likely Democrats in Congress will restore the regulations anyway. The survey of 1,000 likely voters was done Feb. 12-13 and has a margin of error of three percentage points.
But David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama, now has refused to use an oft-repeated campaign denial of plans for the rules.
In a weekend interview, he said, when asked about administration plans to restore the Fairness Doctrine, “I’m going to leave that issue to Julius Genachowski, our new head of the FCC, to, and the president, to discuss. So I don’t have an answer for you now.” Axelrod’s comments came in an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.
Axelrod’s answer aligns with what Les Kinsolving, WND’s correspondent at the White House, already has been told twice in the short tenure of the Obama administration.
Kinsolving twice has raised the issue during White House news briefings, and twice Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has ducked responding. The spokesman said he’ll have to look into it or study up on it.
The most recent interaction was just last week:
“How does the president believe that the First Amendment can be
upheld if the so-called Fairness Doctrine is reinstated and applied only
to electronic media and not to any newspapers, magazines, and wire
services?” Kinsolving asked.
Responded Gibbs, “Les, I pledge to you to study up on the Fairness
Doctrine so that one day I might give you a more fulsome answer.”
During the campaign, however, Obama aides repeatedly gave this answer:
“Senator Obama does not support re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters,” said press secretary Michael Ortiz in a summer 2008 e-mail. “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.”
According to the American Spectator, senior Federal Communications Commission staff members for acting FCC chief Michael Copps already have met with aides to House Energy and Commerce Committee chief Henry Waxman to talk about installing the “Fairness Doctrine” without actually using the name.
The report said not only is the plan to regulate radio under consideration, “Waxman is also interested … in looking at how the Internet is being used for content and free speech purposes.”
Continued the report, “One idea Waxman’s committee staff is looking at is a congressionally mandated policy that would require all TV and radio stations to have in place ‘advisory boards’ that would act as watchdogs to ensure ‘community needs and opinions’ are given fair treatment.”
Online forum participants were not in an accommodating mood:
- “I’m ready to get my pitchfork and march to Washington to defend free speech. If Democrats plan to restrict the speech of talk radio – and by that conservative speech – then I believe they will be digging their own grave. God help us if they succeed.”
- “As the rapid rush to total gov’t control continues one has to wonder where the gulags for thought and speech control will be set up.
- “What is this ‘we won’ nonsense. We have a constitution in this country and a process that ensures the preservation of institutions without regard to who is in power.
Free speech exists so the people can hear information they need to make their decisions for self-rule. Rush Limbaugh and conservative talk radio is chosen by the people through advertising dollars as a source of their information. Authoritarian elitists like Waxman want to decide what we should listen to and therefore want to interfere with the decision making process required for democratic self-rule.
The policy was launched in the 1940s and abandoned in 1987 under President Reagan as unneeded and unconstitutional. Reagan opposed the policy because it required broadcast TV and radio programs to air “opposing views” on political issues, which had the practical effect of virtually eliminating opinion programs.
WND founder and editor Joseph Farah long has warned about Democrats’ plans to revive restrictions on the airwaves.
“If the Democrats and their me-too Republican allies are successful at sacking talk radio, there will be no stopping them,” Farah warned. “Broadcast will be first. Then they will go after the Internet with taxes and new regulations and hate-crimes laws. And when they succeed at muzzling dissenting voices there, they will even turn to print. Remember, we are dealing with a neo-fascist mentality here.”
Many fear the Fairness Doctrine would drive talk radio hosts – like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage – out of business.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has 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 nominee Eric Holder also has refused to commit to opposing to the idea.
Obama’s choice to head his FCC transition team, Democrat Henry Rivera, added to fear in media circles that the so-called Fairness Doctrine might return to silence conservative talk radio.
Brian Maloney, on his blog The Radio Equalizer, said 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.”
In the last two weeks, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., both expressed support about introducing legislation to bring “accountability” to the airwaves.