By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Even though Congress voted unanimously in favor of an amendment banning the return of the Fairness Doctrine, the bill’s author says a stealth version of the controversial doctrine may already be in the works.
On Feb. 25, Congress approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) that would prohibit reinstatement of the Doctrine, which was a policy that required balanced coverage of issues on public airwaves. Sen. DeMint decided to force the issue after a number of Democrats on the Hill spoke out in favor of bringing the policy back, so he added an amendment to an existing bill that proposed giving District of Columbia residents a vote in Congress. The amendment was approved by a vote of 87-11.
However, just before this vote took place, the Senate also approved by 57-41 a parallel amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) restating existing law that federal regulators would work to promote diversity in media ownership. It also provided that the DeMint provision would not take away FCC (Federal Communications Commission) authority to ensure that broadcasters meet their obligations to operate in the public interest.
Sen. DeMint sent a message on Twitter to media analyst Michelle Malkin saying, “Our ban on Fairness Doctrine passes 87-11 but fight not over. Dems have attacked from back door on media ownership, localism.”
FCC commissioner Robert McDowell warned about this exact strategy during a recent speech at The Media Institute. He suggested that a stealth version of the doctrine may come in the form of setting up community advisory boards to help determine local programming. McDowell said some stations already seek such input and that he is fine with these boards as long as they are voluntary. But if they are required, such as what some are proposing, “Would not such a policy be akin to re-imposition of the Doctrine, albeit under a different name and sales pitch?” he asked.
McDowell also said that efforts to reimpose the doctrine could stretch to cable, satellite, and even the Internet.
“Certain legal commentators have suggested that a new corollary of the Doctrine should be fashioned for the Internet, on the theory that web surfers should be exposed to topics and views that they have not chosen for themselves,” he said during the same speech, then added: “I am not making this up.”
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