Some surprising news from the folks at Broadcasting and Cable magazine: Barack Obama is now against restoring the Fairness Doctrine. In an email Wednesday to B&C, press secretary Michael Ortiz wrote: “Sen. Obama does not support re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters.” With John McCain already firmly in the anti-fairness regulation camp, that means that both major presidential candidates are now on record against reinstituting the former FCC policy.
So is it time for fans of the First Amendment to break open the bubbly? Well, not quite. While welcome, the Obama statement was hardly a vigorous denunciation of the doctrine, or its chilling effect on speech. In fact, it doesn’t seem the senator actually opposes the rule, as opposed to not supporting its return. (Notably, he hasn’t yet signed onto the “Broadcaster Freedom Act,” which would ban its re-imposition). According to Ortiz, the reason for the senator’s non-support is that 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.”
Not because it is a violation of free speech principles, or because it is insidious government censorship, not even because it is counter-productive, but because it’s a “distraction.”
A distraction from what, you ask? Other forms of media regulation of course, including, according to Ortiz: “media-ownership caps, network neutrality, public broadcasting, as well as increasing minority ownership of broadcasting and print outlets.”
As has been argued many times before (including here, here, here, here, here, and here) it looks like the battle against government interference in media won’t end with the Fairness Doctrine, but will continue – and in fact is already under way — under different names.