Thursday, March 5, 2009

Legislative Update: Broadcast Freedom Act

As the D.C. Voting Rights Act (S 160/H.R. 157) winds its way through the congressional maze, I have been carefully monitoring its status.

Very briefly, it is my understanding that on the House side, Rep. Mike Pence's efforts to introduce the Broadcaster Freedom Act both as an amendment to the Omnibus Bill and as a stand-alone bill (H.R. 226) were unsuccessful.

However, on the Senate side, the D.C. Voting Rights Act (S 160), inclusive of Sen. Jim DeMint's amendment which prohibits the resurrection of the Fairness Doctrine in any shape or form, handily passed 87-11! (Note: the Senator's amendment appears as Section 10 of S 160. Sen. Durbin's obstructionist amendment which is also included in S 160 seeks to "encourage the FCC" to "promote diverse media ownership". And in the words of Sen. DeMint's spokesperson with whom I spoke on Tuesday, Durbin's amendment is "so watered down as to have no real effect". In other words, even if both amendments were to remain intact throughout the legislative process, Durbin's amendment would not nullify Sen. DeMint's amendment.)

Yesterday, Rep. Pence's spokesperson advised me that the D.C Voting Rights Act (S 160/H.R. 157) is currently in Senate-House conference and will likely reach the House floor for a vote in the coming weeks. He opined that in view the 87-11 vote in the Senate, prospects for passage of the Senate's version of the Act in the House "would seem to be favorable"; but, of course, he too was careful not to characterize it's passage as in any way a slam dunk. The disturbing truth is that at some point in the byzantine legislative process, Section 10 of the Act might well be stripped from the Act altogether. But, that remains to be seen.

So, while the fight isn't over yet, there is some reason for at least a modicum of hope. Will keep my eye on developments and report back.