Senate Votes To Ban Return of Fairness Doctrine
By: John Eggerton, Multichannel News
The Senate voted overwhelmingly to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from reinstating the fairness doctrine -- even though the commission had not indicated plans to do so.
The 87-11vote Wednesday was actually on an amendment -- itself amended -- to an unrelated bill, the D.C. Voting Rights Act.
In order for that vote to block the re-imposition of the doctrine to stand, the Voting Rights Act would have to pass in the Senate and the fairness amendment survive a conference process with the House version.
The Broadcaster Freedom Act, introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), could initially have also prevented the commission from taking some proposed steps to bolster localism, including setting up advisory boards to give broadcasters guidance on public-interest programming.
Those have been criticized by some Republicans as a back-door attempt to reinstate the doctrine.
The Broadcaster Freedom Act would have prohibited "any similar requirement that broadcasters meet programming quotas or guidelines for issues of public importance."
But that language was struck by a second amendment, introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), which instead explicitly reaffirmed the commission's power to seek to promote diversity in media ownership.
The Durbin amendment passed on a straight party line vote, 57-41, while the larger fairness doctrine-blocking bill passed 81-11.
Free Press praised Durbin for rejecting the fairness doctrine hysterics.
The move also created a bill that the Democrats could pass if they wanted to try and quell the ongoing doctrine debate.
DeMint introduced his fairness doctrine-blocking bill last month on the House side.
Attempts were made to pass similar bills in the last Congress. In fact, the House passed a bill sponsored by Mike Pence (R.Ind.), a former radio talk show host himself, that put a one-year moratorium on funding any FCC re-imposition of the doctrine. Democrats, led by David Obey (D-Wisc.), suggested that the amendment was a red herring, a non-issue and that it was being debated, such as it was -- no Democrats stood to oppose it -- to provide sound bites for conservative talkers and "yap yap TV," who had ginned up the issue.
In a Shakespearian mood, Obey said the amendment was "much ado about nothing" and "sound and fury, signifying nothing."
But other Democrats suggested that the sticking point was the current administration, and some big names, including Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), talked about the possibility of bringing it back.