Pence Proposes ‘Broadcaster Freedom Act’ to Prohibit Return of ‘Fairness Doctrine’

Anyone that has picked up a newspaper, or turned on a radio or television recently knows that liberals are once again mounting a campaign to subvert free speech, and eliminate conservative talk radio.

With this in mind, Congressman Mike Pence (R-Indiana) announced on the House floor Wednesday a bill he plans to introduce that would prevent Democrat efforts to reinstate what is somewhat hypocritically called the “Fairness Doctrine.”

What follows is the prepared text of Pence’s statement, as well as additional information supplied by the Congressman on a conference call held early this morning (emphasis added):

"The American people love a fair fight, especially where the issues of the day are debated. In a free market, fairness should be determined based upon equal opportunity, not equal results. As some voices are calling for Congress to enforce their idea of ‘fairness’ upon the American people, it would be good for us to proceed with caution whenever some would achieve their ‘fairness’ by limiting the freedom of others.

"Beginning in 1949, the Federal Communications Commission and its precursor developed and enforced the so-called Fairness Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to present controversial issues in a fair and balanced manner. However, because of the lack of clarity in the Commission’s ruling, broadcasters opted to offer non-controversial programming in lieu of hours of paperwork or countless legal fees.

"Thankfully, the FCC began to overturn its own ruling on the Fairness Doctrine in 1985. And, following that change in policy by the FCC and President Reagan’s veto of attempts to reinstate it, the results have been dramatic. The lifting of the Fairness Doctrine has opened the public airwaves to free and vigorous discussion of controversial issues by individuals of all political stripes.

"Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, talk radio has emerged as a dynamic forum for public debate and an asset to the nation.

"Unfortunately, in the name of fairness, there has been much talk in recent days about the need to level the playing field of radio broadcasting by restoring the Fairness Doctrine.

"A liberal think tank recently condemned what they called the ‘massive imbalance’ on the radio airwaves.

"Some elected officials have said that Congress should ‘deal with that problem’ and others are ‘looking at’ bringing back this outright regulation of the American political debate.

"Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine would amount to government control over political views expressed on the public airwaves. It is a dangerous proposal to suggest the government should be in the business of rationing free speech.

"Congress must take action to ensure that this archaic remnant of a bygone era of American radio does not return. There is nothing fair about the Fairness Doctrine.

"During my years in radio and television, I developed a great respect for a free and independent press. Since being in Congress, I have been the recipient of praise and criticism from broadcast media, but it has not changed my fundamental belief that a free and independent press must be vigorously defended by those who love liberty. It is with this in mind that I will introduce the Broadcaster Freedom Act.

"The Broadcaster Freedom Act will prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from prescribing rules, regulations, or policies that will reinstate the requirement that broadcasters present opposing viewpoints in controversial issues of public importance. The Broadcaster Freedom Act will prevent the FCC or any future President from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. This legislation ensures true freedom and fairness will remain on our radio airwaves, and I would encourage my colleagues to cosponsor and support this bill.

"John F. Kennedy stated, ‘We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.’”

Beyond this, Pence told his conference call attendees this morning that he will be submitting an amendment to the upcoming Financial Services Appropriations bill, along with Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), to block any funds that would go to enforcing the Fairness Doctrine if re-implemented. This move would have the added benefit of getting every member of Congress on the record concerning this matter.

Pence also told attendees that this recent movement by the left to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine is an “existential threat” to the conservative movement, and one that should be taken quite seriously. He doesn’t perceive this to be at all about trying to increase liberal exposure on the radio, for he feels that if the Fairness Doctrine was to be re-implemented, corporations which own radio stations would be forced to completely move away from talk and opinion broadcasting.

Why? Because in his view – and, as someone that came from that industry, his opinion is valuable – talk radio profit margins are very low to begin with. As such, the costs associated with adhering to regulations included in the Fairness Doctrine would make the current format a losing strategy.

With that in mind, Americans should not misinterpret this push by the left as being fair at all, for those advocating these regulations are certainly aware of the financial ramifications in what they’re proposing.

As a result, regardless of the protestations to the contrary, this move has nothing to do with fairness or equal time for liberal views. Instead, this is about killing conservative talk radio, period.

Something else that was disturbing: I asked the Congressman about the judiciary’s role here. After all, what originally moved the FCC from adhering to the Fairness Doctrine was the 1987 court case “Meredith v FCC” wherein it was decided that the doctrine was not mandated by law, and there was no requirement for the FCC to follow its edicts.

Unfortunately, Pence doesn’t feel comfortable with relying on the courts to rule similarly today. In fact, he pointed directly at the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill which most hoped the Supreme Court would find unconstitutional.

Great point. In fact, this is why Pence is urging concerned citizens to contact their representatives and senators in support of the Broadcaster Freedom Act, and against the re-implementation of the Fairness Doctrine.

Another interesting point made by Pence was that this recent focus on the Fairness Doctrine by the left might have been precipitated by the battle over the immigration bill. After all, the mainstream media seem quite in favor of this bill even though a majority of Americans aren’t.

Is it conceivable that folks on the left – and even some on the right – view the polling data as an indication of just how much the electorate are indeed forming their opinions on issues based on what they hear on the radio? Could this one debate on this one issue have catalyzed enough liberals to fear conservative radio that they would now be jumping on this Fairness Doctrine bandwagon?

Interesting thought, wouldn’t you agree? If this is correct, people should be cautioned to not view this matter through a microscope. As Pence suggested, this could all be about setting the stage for a Democrat president inaugurated in 2009 who instructs the FCC to begin adhering to the Fairness Doctrine; ominously, this would require absolutely no Congressional approval.

How scary.

For more information, Michelle Malkin has written extensively about this, as has Ed Morrissey.

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