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Monday, February 23, 2009

Broadcast Freedom Act Breathes New Life: Fairness Doctrine May Finally Be Doomed

I suppose we can take some comfort from the White House's recent announcement that the Prez has no interest in resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine (FD).

However, we should carefully recall that in June of last year he espoused that same position while simultaneously underscoring his support for "opening up the airwaves and modern communications to as many diverse viewpoints as possible"--words which might clearly suggest his support for imposing a facsimile of that odious doctrine.

Understanding that in politics words are cheap and often intentionally ambiguous, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) believes that now is the time for everyone in Congress to publicly vote their conscience on this seminal issue. By calling for an up-or-down vote on the Broadcast Freedom Act 2009 (BFA). it is his hope that the Fairness Doctrine will finally, and deservedly, be consigned to the proverbial "ashbin of history."

Reportedly, Rep. Waxman, House Energy & Commerce Committee, undeterred by the Prez's assurance, has been strategizing with FCC Acting Dir. Copps on ways to implement a facsimile of the Fairness Doctrine. Knowing this, and understandably concerned about a "stealth" or end-run attack on the broadcast industry, on January 6th Sen. DeMint and 29 Republican co-sponsors submitted the Broadcast Freedom Act 2009 (S.34) to committee. On the House side, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) introduced the same bill (HR 226), co-sponsored by 177 Republicans and one courageous Democrat (Mr. Altmire, D-PA) for consideration.

Understanding that the BFA might well fail to get through Democrat-dominated committees, last week the BFA was offered up as an amendment to the D.C. Voting Rights Act (which would grant congressional voting representation to D.C. residents). Though this act is running up against stiff GOP opposition, it is strongly supported by Democrats who, of course, welcome the prospect of an additional voting member within their ranks.

And since the BFA has scant chance of reaching the floor on its own merits, attaching it to the Voting Rights Act may, in fact, be the only way the BFA will ever see the light of day. So, let's hope for timely passage of the D.C. Voting Rights Act , a bill, by the way, with which I, for one, have no particular objections at all.

To recap: the Broadcaster Freedom Act (BFA) ensures that without act of Congress the Fairness Doctrine cannot be in any way reinstated by the Federal Communications Committee FCC). In short, it would "prevent the FCC from reinstating any form of the Fairness Doctrine which would suppress free speech by enabling government to monitor political views and deciding what constitutes fair political discourse on the airwaves." Specifically, the BFA amends Title III of the Communications Act of 1934 by adding the following unambiguous Section 303A:

"Nothwithstanding section 303 or any other provision of this Act or any other Act authorizing the Commission to prescribe any rules, policies, doctrines, standards or other requirements, the Commission [FCC] shall not have the authority to prescribe any rule, regulation, policy, doctrine, standard, or other requirement that has the purpose or effect of reinstating or repromulgating (in whole or in part) the requirement that broadcasters present opposing viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance, commonly referred to as the 'Fairness Doctrine', as repealed in General Fairness Doctrine obligations of Broadcast Licenses, 50 Fed. Reg. 35418 (1985)."

Within the next 90 days, the D.C. Voting Rights Act of 2009 is expected to come up for a vote in both the Senate and the House. With its successful passage, so goes the infamous Fairness Doctrine which, hopefully, may never again be anything more than a disturbing footnote in American Constitutional History. Well, we can hope that will be the case.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fairness Doctrine Update for Hardcore Skeptics

Unpleasant truths are very often denied or carefully avoided. It's a human phenomenon. And when it comes to the ideological arena, a truth is often altogether rejected by those who may find that truth discomforting or at odds with their partisan view of reality. That's just the way it is.

And on the issue of whether or not liberals support the reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine (FD), or a facsimile thereof, skeptics abound among our liberal partisan friends. But, for the disbelievers, here's more substantiation, more truth for their thoughtful and objective consideration.

During a 2/15 intervciew with Chris Wallace/FOX News, David Axelrod was asked if he could "rule out reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine". True to cryptic form, Axelrod responded this way: "I'm going to leave that issue to Julius Genachowski, our new head of the FCC (Federal Communications Communication), and the president, to discuss. So I don't have an answer for you now."

His response clearly depreciates the certitude of Obama's press secretary, Michael Ortiz, when, in June 2008, Ortiz flatly contended that "Sen. Obama does not support reimposing the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters."

To further add to my suspicions regarding the true position of this administration and the liberal elite on this subject, during a 2/13 interview with Michael Savage, a conservative talk radio host, Jerry Brown, Attorney General of California, opined that "a little [government] control wouldn't hurt anybody." When Savage countered that the FD is intended to shut down conservative talk radio, Brown gratuitously labelled Savage as "paranoid", but failed to intellectually dispute Savage's assertion. So much for rational discourse.

When one adds to these exchanges the public support for the FD's reimpositon by Democratic Senators Stabenow, Harkin, Sanders, Durbin, Kerry, Bingaman, Schumer and Representatives Slaughter, Hinchey, Eschoo and Pelosi, among many others, is it any wonder that my humble, groundless, fear-mongering, paranoid guess is that the Fairness Doctrine is definitely on course for reimposition--in one form or another, that is--when and if the Democrats can get away with it? And, of course, the White House's reluctance to express an unambiguous position on the issue justifiably confirms my growing suspicions.

And let's not forget that former Prez Clinton has now joined the growing list of Fairness Doctrine proponents. During a recent interview, he stated that the U.S. "ought to have the Fairness Doctrine or we ought to have more balance on the other side." No equivocator he.

Simply put, legislating or otherwise federally directing "fairness" (socialist code for uniformity and control) is tyranny. To expect government control of the airwaves to positively affect broadcast freedom is nothing short of oxymoronic. In a republic, a Fairness Doctrine is very much akin to censorship, a disservice to every citizen of every political persuasion. What's worse is that the republic for which we stand would be effectively undermined.

Amazingly, Bill Press, liberal talk radio host, recently said this: "Maybe it's time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine--and bring competition back to talk radio in Washington and elsewhere." Huh? And just how does government regulation and control of the free market of ideas encourage competition? Duh. To add to this inanity, in a subsequent telephone interview with POLITICO.COM, Press contradicted himself by saying that while he thinks it's important to raise the issue, he personally thinks that resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine "makes about as much sense as bringing back black-and-white television." Whew! To say the least, the cerebral gymnastics are dizzying. Are these people so blindly ideological that they are unaware of what they're saying moment to moment? Or do they embrace the truth only when they're caught. Perhaps a crash course in Logic--and a quick re-reading of the Bill of Rights for good measure--would assist them out of their intellectual malaise on the subject. Geez.

Owing to our vigilance and timely protestations, I suspect the doctrine's reimposition is necessarily on the back burner--for now, that is. But, you can be sure that many liberals are quietly fashioning some sort of suppressive policy to ram through when and if the time is ripe. Like a wily fox stalking its prey, they hunger for control and uniformity. Thus, I think we can safely bet they won't give up the fight easily. Only our continued vigilance and determined opposition will safeguard our hard-won freedoms of speech and the press.

("Errors of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." Thomas Jefferson)

(" The firmness with which the people have withstood the abuses of the press, the discernment they have manifested between truth and falsehood, show that they may safely be trusted to hear everything true and false and to form a correct judgement between them." Thomas Jefferson)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Yet Another Lib Joins the Attack on Broadcast Freedom

Further to my previous post on this unsettling issue, this:

In pursuit of the Obama White House's stated objective (see their website) to "encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media" and to "clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the national spectrum," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has joined Sen. Stebanow (D-MI) in publicly advocating for reimposition of the "Fairness Doctrine".

During a interview with Bill Press, Sen. Harkin said "we gotta get the Fairness Doctrine back in law again." And in a earlier interview with Press, Sen. Stebanow, whose husband had been VP for Air America, a failed left-leaning network, stated that "it is absolutely time to pass a standard," and that "whether it's called the Fairness Doctrine or something else, I absolutely think it's time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves."

In reaction to these developments, Rep. King (R-IA), a co-sponsor of the Broadcaters Freedom Act, which I described in my July 2008 post, asked if "Rush Limbaugh [so] intimidates Sen. Harkin that he wants to ration free speech?" Rep. King went on to voice his concern that allowing a liberal-dominated government to dictate what is "fair" in broadcast journalism "will stifle free speech and hurt our free flow of information." And that, of course, is precisely the liberals' goal.

Thus, the growing list of liberals who have publicly voiced their determination to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine clearly suggests that conservative fears of censorship in the broadcast media are not in the least unfounded or far-fetched.

What is acutely concerning here is that Democrats, either stealthily or openly, are intent upon imposing their "fairness" standards on the conservative-dominated broadcast media but NOT on the newspaper media which is already dominated by them.

Next, of course, will be suppression of free speech on the internet. In their arrogant and self-serving pursuit of socialist conformity, the liberals' will spare no effort to harness all media outlets in the months and years to come.

Keep your powder dry and your eyes & ears on the upcoming Telecommunications & Internet Broadcasting Subcommittee hearings. You may be sure that the progressive assault on our liberties will continue unabated and increasingly brazen.

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)