Republicans Promise More Fairness Doctrine Opposition

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - Senate Republicans said Monday they would continue to propose legislative measures aimed at killing the erstwhile broadcasting regulation known as the Fairness Doctrine even though Democrats blocked the first attempt last week.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) on Friday offered an amendment to the Defense authorization bill that would have prevented the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) comments on the Fairness Doctrine Friday, July 13, 2007.Several high-profile Democrats have hinted recently at a desire to reintroduce the policy in an attempt to neutralize talk radio, which heavily favors conservatives. The rule, in place in various forms between 1949 and 1987, required broadcasters to offer equal time to each side of a political issue.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the Democrats who have said they are interested in exploring a federal codification of the Fairness Doctrine, blocked Coleman's amendment Friday and took to the Senate floor to defend the policy in a debate with Coleman.

Durbin said the government has the right to regulate talk radio, because the airwaves belong to the American people. He challenged Coleman's faith in the free market, asking him what he would do "if the marketplace fails to provide" alternative voices.

He said broadcasters "should do it responsibly and should seek to provide both points of view, both sides of the story, so that Americans can reach a decision." Does the government, Durbin asked, have "any interest at that point to step in and make sure there's a fair and balanced approach?"

Coleman said he believes that conservative opinion dominates talk radio because of a demand for more conservative voices on the airwaves. "In the end consumers also have a right, based on the market, to make choices and so if they make choices that they want to hear more of one side than the other, then that's okay," he argued.

Coleman said that with widespread communications technology, "Americans have all sorts of options to hear the sides. All they've got to do is turn a dial."

"Government shouldn't be monitoring and regulating content," he added.

Although Durbin prevented Coleman's amendment from being considered by the Senate in its debate of the Defense authorization bill, a spokesman for Coleman told Cybercast News Service that Fairness Doctrine opponents are "actively seeking" ways to reintroduce it this week.

"I think there's still an opportunity to do it on [the Defense authorization bill], so we might bring it back up," spokesman LeRoy Coleman said. "It was blocked once [but] hopefully we can have a debate.

"This isn't just about conservative ideas," he said. "This is about free speech, all free speech, not blocking or more or less regulating political ideas. The senator has great concerns about the government having the ability to do just that."

Conservative talk radio has thrived since the Fairness Doctrine was abandoned by the FCC in 1987. Air America, the most notable attempt to provide a liberal alternative, has experienced financial troubles since its launch in March 2004.

The network filed for bankruptcy in October 2006 but "relaunched" last May and broadcasts on 64 stations and satellite radio under new management.

In a statement after his debate with Durbin, Coleman accused the Democrats of "blocking the ability of the entire Senate to debate this measure" and "suddenly proceed[ing] to rationalize the Fairness Doctrine."

"It's quite clear that the reinstitution of the misleadingly-named Fairness Doctrine would threaten our constitutional right to free speech and fundamentally undermine the workings of our free market democracy," he said. "At the very least, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle should have allowed this amendment to be debated."

A spokesman for Durbin did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

The House in June voted 309-115 to approve an amendment introduced by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) that would prohibit the FCC from using any federal funds to enforce the Fairness Doctrine in 2008.

That amendment was attached to a general government appropriation bill, which is still under consideration in the Senate.

See Previous Stories:
Plan to Restore Fairness Doctrine Still on Track, Analyst Says (July 5, 2007)
Bill Would Undercut Democrats' Push to Regulate Talk Radio (June 28, 2007)
Right's Reign on Talk Radio Called 'Structural Imbalance' (June 22, 2007)

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