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The Fairness Doctrine's Trojan Horse

by Chris Carter

Rep. Mike Pence spoke before the US House of Representatives about the Broadcaster Freedom Amendment on July 14.Monday marked the twenty-second anniversary of the FCC's abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine, but today the potential for a return to government broadcast censorship is still alive and well. After a recent series of procedures in Congress two weeks ago, Democrats managed to keep the threat alive by killing an amendment seeking to prohibit Congress from funding either the Fairness Doctrine or its Trojan Horse –a series of regulations that have the same chilling effect on free speech.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi twice blocked a vote on an amendment protecting free speech for broadcasters. The Broadcaster Freedom Amendment proposed by congressmen Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) sought to prohibit Congress from funding the Fairness Doctrine and part of its Trojan Horse, broadcast localism regulations. When the Reagan administration abolished the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, it did so on the basis that it was unconstitutional and no longer served the public interest. If the FCC were to re-institute the Fairness Doctrine - or more likely its Trojan Horse - the result would be the destruction of Conservative and Christian talk radio.

Speaker Pelosi used special House rules to block the Walden-Pence Broadcaster Freedom Amendment from an up-or-down vote. According to Rep. Pence, “If [this amendment] is brought to the floor of this Congress, it will surely pass; because every time freedom gets an up-or-down vote in the People's House, freedom always wins.”

But Pelosi knows that if freedom doesn't make it to a vote, she wins. Pelosi and numerous members of Congress have expressed their support for a revival of the Fairness Doctrine.

The House Rules Committee also voted to kill the amendment last week. The voting was along party lines, but five of the Democrats who voted to kill the amendment had either co-sponsored or supported Pence's 2007 Broadcaster Freedom Amendment that created a one-year moratorium on the Fairness Doctrine. The amendment garnered bipartisan support and passed overwhelmingly 309-115, but expired in March. Pence was “profoundly disappointed” by this week's vote, but says that “broadcast freedom will ultimately prevail and we will send the 'Fairness Doctrine' to the ash heap of broadcast history.”

Pence says that thanks to the help of millions of Americans, Congress has been able to “close the front door” to the Fairness Doctrine, but “now they are trying to sneak through the back door with regulations known as 'broadcast localism.' These regulations are just a Trojan Horse for unelected bureaucrats in Washington to determine what you can or cannot listen to.”

The only way Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats can defeat Conservative and Christian talk radio is to silence them through force of government. These opponents of free speech know that they would never win in a fight with the Constitution, so they must work around it. They want your attention focused on the Fairness Doctrine, which they know will not pass. Meanwhile, they can have the same effect by passing the "Trojan Horse" elements without drawing attention.

Under broadcast localism, the FCC would establish community advisory boards that according to Roger Hedgecock of the American Radio Free Speech Foundation "would be packed with left-leaning activists and ACORN-type groups, and they would monitor the airwaves and report back to the FCC as to whether or not radio stations and broadcasts were serving the local public interest. Any radio station or broadcast that doesn't fit the bill could be subject to fines, or even having their broadcast license revoked."

Through diversity requirements, the FCC will enforce racial quotas for the broadcast industry. Former interim FCC chairman Michael Copps said that the current racial and gender makeup was "a shameful state of affairs" responsible for the stereotypes and caricatures in today’s society. Copps believes that it is government's role to enforce media diversity by re-examining licensing and other regulations.

Localism and diversity requirements sound much more pleasant than the Fairness Doctrine and are far more likely to slip under the radar, but the result is the same. A 2007 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) mapped out a strategy to clamp down on talk radio. The report shows that locally- and minority-owned radio stations are far less likely to carry conservative talk shows. President Obama, while saying that he does not support efforts to renew the Fairness Doctrine, parroted the CAP strategy during his campaign. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski also supports these onerous backdoor policies.

In a free country, a radio station's content should be decided by the listeners, not politicians and bureaucrats in Washington. By blocking the Walden-Pence Broadcaster Freedom Amendment, Nancy Pelosi and Democrats in Congress have indeed cast a vote against freedom. When government regulates what we can or can't hear, is our speech free anymore?


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