MEDIA MATTERS Senate support builds for 'Fairness Doctrine' radio and television stations give "equal" time

Submitted by Quest-News-Serv... on Thu, 02/12/2009 - 04:49.

MEDIA MATTERS
Senate support builds for 'Fairness Doctrine'
Harkin 'to squelch' 1st Amendment in favor of 'Chinese-style censorship'

Posted: February 11, 2009
11:30 pm Eastern

By Bob Unruh
© 2009 WorldNetDaily


Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has become the second U.S. senator in a week to endorse a return to the ideas behind the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," a plan that was abandoned under President Reagan in 1987 as unnecessary and unconstitutional.

The plan, originally introduced in 1949, demanded that radio and television stations give "equal" time to conservative and liberal opinions on political issues under the threat of penalties or license revocation.

According to a report at Politico.com, Harkin told radio host and WND columnist Bill Press, "We gotta get the Fairness Doctrine back in law again."

WND had reported just days earlier when Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told Press, "I think it's absolutely time to pass a standard. Now, whether it's called the Fairness Standard, whether it's called something else – I absolutely think it's time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves."

Stabenow's husband, Tom Athans, was executive vice president of the left-leaning talk radio network Air America. He left the network in 2006, when it filed for bankruptcy, and co-founded the TalkUSA Radio Network.

Tell your government no to the so-called "Fairness Doctrine." Sign WND's Petition to Block Congressional Attacks on Freedom of Speech and Press now!

According to the show transcript, Harkin was talking with Press, and said:

"Well, anytime – just let me know Bill. I love being with you, and thanks again for all you do to get the truth and the facts out there. By the way, I read your Op-Ed in the Washington Post the other day. I ripped it out, I took it into my office and said 'there you go, we gotta get the Fairness Doctrine back in law again.'"

Press responded: "Alright, well good for you. You know, we gotta work on that, because they are just shutting down progressive talk from one city after another. All we want is, you know, some balance on the airwaves, that's all. You know, we're not going to take any of the conservative voices off the airwaves, but just make sure that there are a few progressives and liberals out there, right?"

"Exactly, and that's why we need the fair – that's why we need the Fairness Doctrine back," Harkin said.

His statements prompted an immediate response from Iowa Congressman Steve King, who is a co-sponsor of the Broadcasters Freedom Act, which would keep the Federal Communications Commission from reinstating the "Fairness Doctrine."

"It is incredible that in today's modern media age, where information is easily accessible in so many different forms, Tom Harkin wants to squelch your First Amendment rights in favor of Chinese-style censorship," King said.

"Does Rush Limbaugh intimidate Senator Harkin so much that he wants to ration free speech? Allowing the government, run by liberals, to control broadcast journalism and determine what on-air content is and is not 'fair' will stifle our free speech and hurt our free flow of information," he said.

Michael Calderone at Politico reported Press told him he's hoping for congressional hearings on the "accountability" for radio stations, and "whether stations are honoring the language in their public licenses."

Commenters of the Politico forum were incensed:

  • "Liberal talk radio can't pay their way. Companies will not sponsor programs that have no listeners."
  • "Memo to liberal: Get your own radio audience. Is anything more pathetic then (sic) passing a law forcing people to listen to your crap?"
  • "Seems like it's time for a new Cabinet post – Minister of Truth! War is Peace Freedom is Slavery Ignorance is Strength Obama is the Messiah."
  • "No one is 'shutting down' liberal talk radio. They are going out of business because advertisers do not want to spend money on shows that no one listens to."
  • "There are plenty of opportunities for liberal talk. Is it conservative talk's fault that no one listens to their drivel?"
  • L. Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, said Harkin can be added "to an ever growing laundry list of liberal censors that seek to silence free speech by shutting down conservative talk radio."

    "There are some liberals in the media that insist the fear of a return of the Censorship Doctrine is an imaginary one that exists only in the heads of paranoid conservatives. Meanwhile, one liberal leader after another publicly states his or her intent to bring it back," he said.

    Stabenow had said: "I think it's absolutely time to pass a standard. Now, whether it's called the Fairness Standard, whether it's called something else – I absolutely think it's time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves. I mean, our new president has talked rightly about accountability and transparency. You know, that we all have to step up and be responsible. And, I think in this case, there needs to be some accountability and standards put in place."

    Asked by Press if she could be counted on to push for hearings in the Senate this year "to bring these (radio station) owners in and hold them accountable," Stabenow replied: "I have already had some discussions with colleagues and, you know, I feel like that's gonna happen. Yep."

    Meanwhile, as WND has previously reported, other Democratic legislators have tried to claim talk about a reintroduction of the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" is merely conspiracy-mongering by right-wing talk radio and its partisan cheerleaders.

    But other Democrats in the Senate and House – and even a few Republicans – have made no secret of their support for such legislation.

    "For many, many years, we operated under a Fairness Doctrine in this country," Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., told Albuquerque radio station KKOB last year. "I think the country was well-served. I think the public discussion was at a higher level and more intelligent in those days than it has become since."

    Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., told WYNC's Bryan Lehrer Show in 2007, "I think the Fairness Doctrine ought to be there and I also think equal time doctrine ought to come back."

    In June of last year, John Gizzi reported in Human Events a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in which he asked her if she personally supported revival of the "Fairness Doctrine."

    "Yes," Pelosi answered.

    And as recently as December, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. – who serves on the Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee – told the Palo Alto Daily Post she still believes in the "Fairness Doctrine" and will work on bringing it back.

    "It should and will affect everyone," Eshoo pledged.

    Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, has said, "Sen. Obama does not support reimposing the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters. He considers this debate to be a distraction from the conversation we should be having about opening up the airwaves and modern communications to as many diverse viewpoints as possible."

    But the debate heated up again recently when Obama singled out Rush Limbaugh, the king of talk radio, for criticism: "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done."

    FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, a Bush appointee whose term runs through June, however, warned that Democrats may be adopting a stealthier approach to shutting down conservatives on talk radio.

    In a speech to the Media Institute in Washington last week, Multichannel News reports, McDowell suggested there are efforts to implement the controversial policy without using the red-flagged "Fairness Doctrine" label.

    "That's just Marketing 101," McDowell explained. "If your brand is controversial, make it a new brand."

    WND also has reported on the possibility that the strings that come with the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," which addressed only broadcast media, could be expanded to include print media.

    Bozell, president of the media watchdog organization Media Research Center, contends that if a news company – even a bankrupt one – accepts taxpayer money, it can no longer be trusted to hold government accountable to the people.

    "How in the world can [a] paper propose to be a watchdog for the public when it's had conversations about being bankrolled by the government?" Bozell asked in The Philadelpia Bulletin.

    "When a media outlet proposes a bailout, it proposes to put itself under the authority of the entity bailing it out," Bozell said. "Therefore, if it's a government, the media entity proposes to become an arm of the government."

    Bozell was reacting to news that the publisher of both the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News has been in discussions with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell about a potential government bailout of Philadelphia Media Holdings, the company that owns the newspapers.

    Reuters reports a similar situation in Connecticut, where State Rep. Frank Nicastro, D-Bristol, petitioned the state government to step in and help save The Bristol Press and The New Britain Herald after their parent company accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, though the papers have since been purchased by a new owner.

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