Friday, February 6, 2009

Looming "Fairness Doctrine" Remains a Threat to Our Liberty

If one can't win fairly, then the less principled among us will try rigging the game.

And so it is with the egregiously misnamed "fairness doctrine" which liberals are attempting to re-impose on the broadcasting industry.

Underscoring that this fear is not baseless, the current FCC Chairman, Robert McDowell, a Bush appointee whose term expires in June, recently warned that the Democrats will adopt a "stealthier approach" to re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine (FD). By disguising it with another name, e.g. "localism", "diversity", "local broadcasting advisory boards", the Dems hope to effectively shut down conservative talk radio. All in the interest of "leveling the playing field," of course.

Aside from the usual suspects, Sens. Bingaman, Reid, Kerry, Schumer, Feinstein & Boxer, and Reps. Pelosi and our own when-will-she-just-go-away Rep. Slaughter, last week Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich) asserted that the liberal- dominated Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee will soon hold hearings on the issue--all in the lofty interest of ensuring broacaster "accountability and responsibility," liberal code for suppression of free speech when apoplied to the other side of the aisle.

As we all know, Sen. Schumer recently equated conservative talk radio to pornograpy. And for Lousie Slaughter who, during my tete-a-tete with her on November 11th, denied that Schumer had drawn any such comparison at all, here's the Schumer quote, Louise: "The very same people who don't want the Fairness Doctrine want the FCC to limit pornography on the air. I am for that. I think pornography should be limited. But you can't say 'government hands off' in one area of a commercial enterprise, but 'you're allowed to intervene' in another. That's not consistent."

On January 7th, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), the leading champion of broadcast freedom, warned that "the FD is at complete odds with the constitution." (As if that has any real relevance these days in D.C.) Frustrated, Sen. DeMint voiced his concern that "some of the most powerful among the Democratic leadership have openly advocated re-imposition of the Fairness Doctrine," and urgently called for the "vigorous defense of freedom of the press." (If you're counting on those in the D.C. circuit, Jim, I wouldn't hold my breath.)

Am I a witless conspiracist or shameless fear-mongerer? I don't think so.

In late 2007 an aide to Speaker Pelosi stated that "conservative radio is a huge threat and political advantage for Republicans and we have had to find a way to limit it." And when asked by a reporter how she felt about the Broadcaster Freedom Act which would ban reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine, Comrade Pelosi curtly responded that "the caucus is not interested in the ban." (Very much akin to "let them eat cake.") On another occasion, when asked if she supported the FD's reimposition, she said "Yes!" No equivocation there, I'd say. And no fear-mongering here.

And forever adept at speaking out of both sides of his lawyerly mouth, through his press secretary in June 2008, BHO took this position: "[I} consider this debate to be a distraction Obama code for disturbingly on point) from the conversation we should be having about opening up the airwaves and modern communications to as many diverse viewpoints as possible." And to Republican leaders recently, this: "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done." An opening salvo? Very likely. Ensuring that all media outlets are in lockstep with our socialist overseers in Washington is, I fear, considered essential if the socialist makeover via tighter state control over our lives is to be successful.

But, a little historical background.

Authorized by the Communications Act of 1934, the "Fairness Doctrine" was created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1949 to encourage the broadcasting of contrasting viewpoints on "vitally important controversial issues." Its net effect was to discourage broadcasters from covering any controversial issues at all, thus avoiding running afoul of the FCC and having to deal with aggrieved listeners altogether. Ultimately, FD virtually shut down talk radio for many years.

In 1985, the FCC reported that the doctrine was no longer having its intended effect, and that it might actuallly have a "chilling effect" and be in violation of the 1st Amendment as well. In a 1987 case, Meredith vs FCC,the courts declared that enforcement of the doctrine mandated by Congress and the FCC did not need to be continued. Subsequently, the FCC dissolved the doctrine in August of that year. (Note: the courts have not rendered a decision as to the FD's constitutionality. That will likely be our battle for another time.)

When the FD was eliminated, it opened up the airwaves for all commercially viable viewpoints. Result: conservatie talk radio which proved to be more appealing and, therefore, commercially more profitable, fluorished while its liberal talk radio competitors, e.g. Air America, limped along on life support.

Knowing that resurrecting the FD to overtly shut down conservative talk radio would unleash a torrent of First Amendment suits which he would likely lose, indications are that a Pres. Obama, in league with Pelosi and Reid, will try to circumvent the constitutional issue by advancing a sneakier strategy to achieve the same end.

Enter "localism", a vaguely defined FCC rule which requires stations "to serve the interests of their local communities by covering local issues and providing an outlet for local voices as a condition of keeping their broadcasting licenses."

Crafting a bill which more restrictively defines and enforces "localism", and co-sponsored by local reps please-go-away Slaughter (NY-28) and Major Owens (NY-11), Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) is now considering re-introducing the Media Ownership Reform Act (MORA) some of whose key provisions are as follows:

1. A broadcast company, e.g. Clear Channel, cannot own stations that reach more than 35% of American households.

2. A company may own no more than 5% of all AM and FM stations.

3. Companies cannot own a cable and broadcast station in the same market

4. Bi-annually, the FCC would need to report to Congress on how the commission's regs on media ownership have promoted and protected localism, competition, diversity of voices/ownership, children's programing, etc.

5. Would require radio statiosn to file bi-annual reports to FCC on how they are serving the community and to hold at least semi-annual local public hearings to determine if the broadcast needs of their local audience have been met.

So, Obama's Politburo, aka Ministry of Propaganda, will arrogantly tinker with and re-define free speech and freedom of the press. Incredible! (Revolution, anyone?)

A more restrictive definition of "localism" by an FCC dominated by an Obama-appointed chairperson would mean that broadcasters would need to look beyond crass commercial interests by reaching out to "leaders in the civic, religious and non-profit sectors who serve the needs of minority groups that are poorly served by the broadcasting industry." The intent, of course, is to threaten licensing revocation by the FCC if "local diversity of content" isn't achieved by broadcasters. This might well mean, for example, that a Christian radio station will be effectively saddled with a local Muslim-dominated "advisory board" demanding equal time and getting it, or losing its license to the advisory group altogether.The possible scenarios across the country are fightening.

So, while overt re-imposition of the deceptively named FD may not be politically feasible at this time--and many liberals like Bingaman and Schumer go suspiciously at length to underscore that point--if we fail to remain vigilant a surreptitious resurrection of FD under a different guise is all too probable. Make no mistake: "Localism" and "Fairness Doctrine" are one and the same. We all need to carefully watch developments on this front and to push back accordingly.

Reportedly, even Air America is opposed to the FD's reimposition. Interesting.

("Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element." Rosa Luxemburg)

("It is so difficult to draw a clear line of separation between the abuse and the wholesome use of the press, that as yet we have found it better to trust the public judgment, rather than the magistrate, with the discrimination between truth and falsehood. And hitherto the public judgment has performed that office with wonderful correctness." Thomas Jefferson, 1803)