Fairness Doctrine – Sneaky Bastards Kill It Again

On several occasions, I’™ve discussed the late and lamented broadcast Fairness Doctrine that was ditched by the Reagan-controlled FCC back in 1986. Many people point to the demise of the Fairness Doctrine as one of the opening acts in dismantling American democracy. When the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated, there was no longer a [...]

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On several occasions, I’™ve discussed the late and lamented broadcast Fairness Doctrine that was ditched by the Reagan-controlled FCC back in 1986. Many people point to the demise of the Fairness Doctrine as one of the opening acts in dismantling American democracy. When the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated, there was no longer a need for broadcasters to truly balance the ideological slant of their networks.

During her freshman term in congress (interestingly enough, the year the Fairness Doctrine was repealed by the FCC), Louise Slaughter recognized the problem. As Slaughter recalled in a conversation with Bill Moyers in 2004:

BILL MOYERS: Tell me exactly what the fairness doctrine was.

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Pretty much that you had an obligation to present two sides of an issue. There wasn’™t really an obligation to go out and hunt for somebody if something outrageous was said on a station that you owned, or television station. But if someone asked to come on to present an opposing view, they were allowed to do it. And the stations were obligated to do it. And most station owners that I’™ve talked to have said it wasn’™t onerous. They didn’™t find it all that difficult.

BILL MOYERS: What happened to the fairness doctrine? It was in effect for years. In the early ‘™80s the Federal Communications Commission decided to’¦

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Do away with it the grounds, on the grounds that they said it was not a law. It was just a policy. Congress then sprang into action and passed a law putting it into a law that’¦

BILL MOYERS: They overrode the FCC?

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: They overrode the FCC. And I’™ll tell you that it was such an astonishing vote. I think it was three to one in the House, two to one in the Senate. Among the people voting for it were Jesse Helms, Newt Gingrich and others.

BILL MOYERS: To keep the fairness doctrine.

LOUISE SLAUGHTER: To keep the fairness doctrine and codify it into law. But President Reagan vetoed it. And I remember my party was in charge at the time, the Democratic party. And I went to the leadership. And I said, ‘œThis is outrageous. We’™ve got to try to override that veto.’

And they would not’¦

‘¦And I tried that one for six years and found out a few years ago that the broadcasters spent $11 million to kill that one amendment.

So, it’™s no surprise that yesterday, once again, the National Association of Broadcasters was crowing. In a provision that was inserted into a House bill amendment offered by GOP congressman Mike Pence (R-In), the GOP effectively once again killed the Fairness Doctrine. The amendment prohibits the FCC from spending any federal money on reinstating or enforcing the broadcast Fairness Doctrine, and it was passed – get this – by a 309 to 115 vote.

Speaker Pelosi, take note: one of your senior colleagues has been carrying the torch for fairness in media reporting for almost her entire congressional career. The Democratic Party had an aggressive agenda for the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress. Codifying the Fairness Doctrine needed to be an integral part of that first 100 hours – in fact, it should have been one of the first pieces of legislation pursued when the new congress convened.

Veto? Yeah, the Bush regime would have probably vetoed a stand alone piece of legislation on the Fairness Doctrine. Still, there are many, many reasons why it’™s vitally important to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, but none more so than the fact that anything else that a Democratic congress wants to do will be picked apart in a Clinton-esque fashion by the propaganda wing of the GOP, with limited opportunity for rebuttal by the Democratic Party.

Yet, the vote wasn’™t even close, because Pence snuck this amendment into a totally unrelated bill. As far as I can tell, there wasn’™t even debate on the issue.

If anyone thinks that the broadcast media which has been overrun by GOP talking heads is going to give a Democratic Party-controlled congress a fair shake, well, the swampland in Florida that I’™ve been trying to sell is still available at a bargain price.

Saturday, June 30th, 2007 by Richard Blair |

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