Dems Eager to Regulate Talk Radio

Posted: Jun 27, 2007 11:46 AM
Dems Eager to Regulate Talk Radio

Prominent Democrats want to revive a policy to require broadcasters to present multiple viewpoints on controversial issues, spurred by complaints that talk radio has unfairly impacted the national immigration debate.

An article published Wednesday by The Hill quoted Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.),stating: “It's time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine. I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they're in a better position to make a decision.”

The Fairness Doctrine was a Federal Communication Commission regulation that dates back to 1947. Under the regulation, station licensees were considered “public trustees” that had an obligation to present multiple perspectives on public issues.  In the 1987 case Meredith Corp. v. FCC, the courts ruled the regulation was not mandated by Congress and the FCC was not obligated to enforce it. As a result,the FCC discarded the Fairness Doctrine.

Wednesday morning Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.) told WYNC’s Brian Lehrer: “The Doctrine ought to come back.These are the people who wiped out one of the most profound changes to the balance of the media is when conservatives got rid of the equal time requirements. And the result is…. you know they’ve been able to squeeze down and squeeze out opinion of opposing views.”

Since the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, conservative talk radio has exploded in popularity, while liberal efforts like Air America went bankrupt. The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank comprised of many former Clinton Administration staffers, issued a report on June 21titled “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radiothat concluded 91 percent of weekday talk radio is conservative.

The report states: “The gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S.regulatory system, particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules including the requirement of local participation in management.”

Well-known talk radio host Michael Medved, who frequently invites liberal guests to his Salem Communications show, said, "Up until today, the Fairness Doctrine was confined to the fever swamps of the extreme left. With Dick Durbin and John Kerry talking about the return of it, it’s time to pay attention."

He continued, "The best way for people to understand this is that a country western station succeeds because people know it’s a country western station. They know any hour of the day or night if they punch that button into their car radio they are going to get country music. They don’t expect that the country music is going to be balanced by hip-hop or the Metropolitan opera."

When asked to react to Durbin’s remarks about reinstituting the policy, Bill Bennett, popular Salem Communications talk radio host, said, “Wow. This is serious.”

“In the past, I thought some of my colleagues were being a bit too excitable about this, but now you have serious Democrats like Durbin and [Dianne] Feinstein talking about it,” he said. “This is a clear violation of the first amendment and we will fight it with all that we can.”

In a June 24 interview, Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace asked Sen. Feinstein (D.-Calif.) if she would revive the Fairness Doctrine. She said,“Well, I'm looking at it, as a matter of fact, Chris, because I think there ought to be an opportunity to present the other side. And unfortunately, talk radio is overwhelmingly one way.”

Feinstein added: “I remember when there was a Fairness Doctrine, and I think there was much more serious, correct reporting to people.”

Republican Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.),who appeared on the program with Feinstein, was quoted in a June 15 New York Times article about immigration saying, "Talk radio is running America.We have to deal with that problem."

In the Fox interview, Lott said he did not support the Fairness Doctrine.

Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.), a former talk radio host, will introduce legislation this week with Rep. Greg Walden (R.-Ore), a radio station owner, to prevent the Fairness Doctrine from being enacted again.

Pence explained that barring any legislation, like the bill he is proposing, a future President could resurrect the regulation.

Last week, Sen. Inhofe (R.-Okla.) told KFI talk radio host John Ziegler he had overheard Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) speaking with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) about “putting a legislative fix” on talk radio in the past.

Pence said, “To me the scenario that presents a genuine threat to the wide-open, free market debate that is talk radio today is the notion of a Democrat President in the White House with appointments to the FCC and some sufficient majorities in the House and Senate to bring this Fairness Doctrine back, all with very carefully veiled in rhetoric about everybody having their say.”

“As long as we have a Republican President in the White House I’m sure we’ll have a veto and I’m sure we’ll have the votes to sustain it. But what happens after a year and half if we lose the White House and we don’t regain the Congress? That’s why we need this legislation,” Pence stated.

Pence will also introduce an amendment to the Financial Services Appropriation bill with Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R.-Tex.) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.) to block any federal money from being used by the FCC to impose the Fairness Doctrine.