Fairness Doctrine Debate: Less and More than Meets the Eye

by on June 25, 2008 · 25 comments

Human Events’ John Gizzi is reporting today that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “signalled her strong support” for revival of ‘The Fairness Doctrine,'” yesterday at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.  The report sparked a flurry of activity by supporters of Rep. Mike Pence’s stalled Broadcaster Freedom Act, which would permanently ban re-institution of the regulation.  

The reaction to Pelosi’s comment is rather surprising, given that its hardly news that the Democratic leader would support the doctrine.   Last year, in fact, it was reported that she would “aggressively” pursue reinstituting the doctrine.   That never happened, and in fact the House ended up voting for a one-year appropriations rider banning the FCC from reviving it.   

News or not, the renewed attention for the Pence effort is welcome.   Still, supporters of free speech shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that this is the whole of the battle, or even the main theater of conflict.  In truth, while many still give lip service to the Fairness Doctrine, the real battle over media regulation is moving forward — with closed lips — elsewhere.   Free Press and the Center for American Progress laid out the strategy last year in a report on how to balance the “conservative bias” on talk radio.   Their recommendations ranged from media ownership restrictions to vague “public interest” requirements enforced by the FCC.  Tellingly, the report dismissed the Fairness Doctrine itself as ineffective.

The battle over stealth fairness regulation may already underway at the FCC, which has already launched a proceeding to consider imposing rules on broadcasters to ensure local content and diversity on radio and TV, giving regulators renewed powers to control what is said and heard.     And, as Cord Blomquist has pointed out: “Localism will compel speech of which FCC Commissioners … approve. In a world of limited broadcast hours, compelling one sort of speech means sacrificing speech of another, effectively censoring speech.”

We’ve heard that song before.

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