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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Senate Democrats foil attempt to bar 'Fairness Doctrine'

By Kara Rowland - The Washington Times - July 20, 2007
Senate Democrats last night beat back a Republican attempt to attach an anti-Fairness Doctrine bill as an amendment to education legislation.

The doctrine, a former requirement that broadcasters present opposing points of view on political issues, was scrapped in 1987 by the Federal Communications Commission, which said the policy restricted journalistic freedom. The bill by Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, would prevent the FCC from reinstating the doctrine.

"We live in an age of satellite radio, of broadband, of blogs, of Internet, of cable TV, of broadcast TV. There is no limitation on the ability of anyone from any political persuasion to get their ideas set forth," Mr. Coleman argued in support of the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2007. "The public in the end will choose what to listen to."

By a vote of 49-48, senators voted not to consider Mr. Coleman's amendment after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, raised a point of order. Senate rules require 60 votes to waive a point of order.

An attempt by Mr. Coleman last week to attach his bill as an amendment to a defense authorization bill was similarly blocked by Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

In a swipe at Mr. Coleman, Mr. Kennedy accused sponsors of unrelated amendments of delaying passage of the education bill and "basically insulting the families of this country."

Mr. Coleman countered by linking a prohibition of the Fairness Doctrine to education.

"This bill is about educating young people," he said. "Well, let them have unfettered access to information."

The Fairness Doctrine has been a hot topic in the last month after a liberal think tank on June 20 concluded that political talk radio is "dominated" by conservatives 9-to-1. The report, by the Center for American Progress, said the talk-radio landscape does not serve all Americans.

Air America, a prominent liberal talk-radio network, was bailed out of bankruptcy in January by real estate tycoon Stephen L. Green.

Days after the release of the Center for American Progress report, Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, shared a conversation he said he overheard three years earlier between Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barbara Boxer of California, in which the women called for a "legislative fix" to counter the influence of "extremist" talk-radio hosts. Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Boxer denied the conversation took place.

While the current Republican-led FCC poses no threat of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, Republicans in both the House and Senate were quick to introduce bills that would prohibit a future Democrat-led agency from doing so. In the House, Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, has 135 co-sponsors of his version of the Broadcaster Freedom Act.

Mark S. Fowler, the former FCC chairman who led the charge to shelve the doctrine prior to its later repeal, said calls for its revival are "unacceptable."

Asked whether there is any viable chance of the policy being reinstated, Mr. Fowler told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday: "I don't think so; I hope not."

"The electronic press that uses electrons and airwaves should be as free as the press that uses ink and paper, period," he said.

He asserted that lawmakers who say the doctrine is in the public interest are "politicians trying to control part of the press. To say the airwaves belong to the people — all these reasons they use to regulate are excuses. They're not reasons."

Meanwhile yesterday, the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation approved the "Protecting Children From Indecent Programming Act," a bill that reaffirms an FCC policy on so-called "fleeting expletives."
Under the bill — sponsored by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat — the commission can penalize broadcasters for airing a single indecent word or image. The legislation comes more than a month after a federal court invalidated the policy as an "arbitrary and capricious" departure from previous policy and instructed the agency to either show further justification for it or eliminate it.

Mr. Rockefeller said he plans to introduce legislation to curb violent programming on broadcast, cable and satellite television. The FCC only has authority over broadcast content.
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