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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.

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