Durbin: 'Right-Wing' Radio Hosts Wave 'Bloody Shirt' over Broadcast Censorship

By Matt Cover | March 11, 2009 | 7:01 PM EDT

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) (AP Photo)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told CNSNews.com Tuesday that "right-wing talk radio" hosts are waving a "bloody shirt" when they talk about potential government efforts to diminish the conservative presence on the air waves.

He also said that an amendment he is sponsoring that directs the Federal Communications Commission to promote "diversity" in the ownership of broadcast outlets is nothing new and merely restates longstanding FCC rules.

CNSNews.com asked Durbin: “Is the Durbin amendment--what's come to have been called the Durbin Amendment--is that the Democratic leadership's way to regulate conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity without reverting to the Fairness Doctrine?”
(The Fairness Doctrine was an FCC regulation thrown out during the Reagan administration that said radio stations that discussed controversial issues must allow opposing views to be aired. It effectively stifled the discussion of politics and public policy on the radio, and shows like Rush Limbaugh's did not emerge until after the regulation was repealed.)

Durbin’s responded by lambasting the conservative talkers: “We just had that debate on the floor of the Senate a week or two ago and passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan (amendment) that prohibited the imposition of the Fairness Doctrine.
“So all of the right-wing talk radio folks who want to wave this bloody shirt ought to read the Congressional Record and realize that we’ve moved on--we’re not on that issue any more.”
The amendment to which Durbin referred was placed in the D.C. Voting Rights Act which passed the Senate Feb. 26 and was offered by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). It would make it illegal for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to re-impose the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC regulation that was scrapped in 1987 by an FCC dominated by Reagan appointees. 

Durbin voted for the DeMint amendment, which was approved 87-11.  His own amendment was approved 57-41.
Durbin suggested that his amendment did nothing more than restate existing FCC policy.
CNSNews.com: So it's not a way to achieve the same end without --
Sen. Richard Durbin: What is?
CNSNews.com: The Durbin Amendment –
Durbin: Which Durbin amendment?
CNSNews.com: The one that imposes new rules for ...  minority ownership and things like that.
Durbin: The problem is, it’s not a new rule. It comes from 1949, when we called for diversity in (station) ownership of those who have the right to our airwaves. So diversity is not a new rule. It’s been around for 60 years. The other part of the Durbin amendment said that broadcast licensees had to operate in the public interest. That’s also been on the books for almost 50 years.

The amendment orders the FCC to take “affirmative actions” to ensure that radio station ownership is diverse and that broadcast licenses are issued strictly in the public interest.
Specifically, the amendment reads: "Certain Affirmative Actions Required--The Commission shall take actions to encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership and to ensure that broadcast station licenses are used in the public interest."

Conservatives have criticized the Durbin amendment as simply a backdoor way to re-impose the Fairness Doctrine and diminish the presence of conservative and Christian talk shows on the radio by diminishing the number of radio station owners who would schedule conservative and Christian radio hosts in their lineups.

Under the Fairness Doctrine, which the FCC until 1987, whenever radio and TV stations aired commentary that took a position on a controversial issue, it was required to present opposing viewpoints.

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