Technology, New Media Pose Major Challenges to Fairness Doctrine, Two Democrats Say

November 11, 2008 - 3:43 PM
The variety of media today and technological advances make it challenging, if not pointless, to try to re-impose the Fairness Doctrine on talk radio, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told CNSNews.com.
(CNSNews.com) - The variety of media today and technological advances make it challenging, if not pointless, to try to re-impose the Fairness Doctrine on talk radio, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told CNSNews.com.
 

 
“It’s increasingly difficult to try and put quotas on political speech over any medium, so I think that would be the challenge anyone would face if they wanted to try and do that,” he said, when asked at the Democratic Senatorial Committee election night party on Nov. 4. 
 
“I can’t speak for all my colleagues on that issue,” said Cardin. “I can only say that I think technology has possibly moved beyond the ability to regulate things, at least as it stands now.”
 
Further, “as far as I know, it will not be the first order of business, if it’s ever part of the agenda,” said Cardin.
 
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said variety is good for talk radio but there are so many media today that the market – not the Fairness Doctrine – “is working this out.”
 
“Well, first of all, I think that a station should have a balanced approach,” Van Hollen told CNSNews.com. “I think they are doing their listeners a service when they provide all sides to an issue. But quite frankly, there is more variety today than we’ve had in recent years.
 
“We have a lot of radio stations that are providing all different types of points of view, and I think there’s a lot of self-selection here,” said Van Hollen. “There’s a lot of listeners who are saying, ‘look, we are going to listen to stations that are balanced,’ so I think the market in some respects is working this out.”
 
The Fairness Doctrine is a Federal Communications Commission regulation, abandoned by the Reagan administration in 1987, which required media using the public airwaves to provide equal time for different political points of view. 
 
Today, many Democrats in Congress have said the Fairness Doctrine should be re-imposed to counter the influence of conservative talk radio, which dominates the marketplace with shows hosted by people such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Neal Boortz and Mark Levin.
 
Supporters of the Fairness Doctrine have not said the regulation should also apply to network news television, such as ABC, NBC or CBS, which use the public airwaves.
 
On Nov. 4, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) defended the Fairness Doctrine, telling Fox News: “I think we should all try to be fair and balanced, don’t you?”
 
Van Hollen, however, told CNSNews.com that talk radio content does not need to be fair and balanced, adding that the Fairness Doctrine is a difficult issue for President-elect Barack Obama and the new Democratic Congress to deal with because of today’s “new media.”
 
“I think it’s increasingly difficult, because it’s kind of like a balloon,” said Van Hollen. “In other words, even if you wanted to go there – and I’m not saying we do – but if you wanted to go there, when you squeeze one end of the balloon, you know, simply the conversation can just go to others.
 
“I think even if you wanted to go back to the Fairness Doctrine, technology may have passed it by,” he said.
 
Although Cardin said Congress must be cautious with the Fairness Doctrine and not infringe on First Amendment rights, he also said the government does have a responsibility to ensure that content is balanced.
 
“On the other hand, the government, we all have the responsibility to make sure that there’s a variety of opportunities for people to get information,” he said.
 
Cardin declined to say whether he would support re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine.
 
“I don’t think we’re going to get to it in the matter in which you are explaining it,” he said. “I think we do look at making sure that our system does not – is not biased towards a more diverse set of networks.”