Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill in both the House and Senate to prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, a policy abolished more than two decades ago for its alleged threat to public interest and violation of First Amendment rights.
"The time has come to do away with the Fairness Doctrine once and for all," said Congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009 on Wednesday together with Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Republican Conference; Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Steering Committee; and Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.
"It is dangerous to suggest that the government should be in the business of rationing free speech," he added.
First introduced in the United States in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine required the holders of broadcast licenses to present balanced and fair coverage of controversial subject matter. In 1987, however, the FCC abolished the doctrine, stating that "the intrusion by government into the content of programming occasioned by the enforcement of [the Fairness Doctrine] restricts the journalistic freedom of broadcasters ... [and] actually inhibits the presentation of controversial issues of public importance to the detriment of the public and the degradation of the editorial prerogative of broadcast journalists."
The commission also suggested that, because of the "multiplicity of voices in the marketplace," the doctrine be deemed unconstitutional.
While some believe the return of the Fairness Doctrine is improbable, if not impossible, the men behind the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009 say there was enough movement on Capitol Hill to merit their recent course of action.
"Over the past few months, some of the most powerful Democrats in Congress have made their intentions to restore this Depression-era regulation clear," announced congressman Pence, whose bill in the House has over 100 cosponsors.
"Democrats want to impose an unfair doctrine that destroys talk radio and silences the voices of millions of Americans who disagree with their vision for America," added senator DeMint, whose Senate bill, S. 34, has 24 cosponsors.
In his statement, DeMint noted how talk radio has grown rapidly since the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. Many have credited the rise of right-wing radio to the repeal in 1987.
The introduction of the Broadcast Freedom Act of 2009 has been widely welcomed by conservative groups, including Family Research Council, the American Center for Law and Justice, and the Christian Coalition of America.
"I commend these Congressional leaders for their work to protect the airwaves from government controls," expressed FRC President Tony Perkins in a statement Wednesday.
"This act will protect broadcasters from those who seek to intimidate and silence any political opposition," he added. "I wholeheartedly support the Broadcaster Freedom Act and urge Congress to act in support of the First Amendment and a free press."
In a statement of support Thursday from the ACLJ, Jay Sekulow, the group's chief counsel, noted how the return of the Fairness Doctrine "would be devastating to Christian broadcasters by putting the federal government in charge of telling broadcasters what to air."
"Such a move would put the federal government in control of dictating the content of what's aired effectively muzzling Christian broadcasters," he said. "That's precisely why the Broadcaster Freedom Act is so important."
The Christian Coalition of America, meanwhile, accused liberal activists of wanting to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine to "intimidate radio station owners not to carry hours of conservative talk (because they would have to offer hours of liberal talk) – meaning shows like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly would be a thing of the past."
"They know that conservative talk radio is one of the biggest obstacles standing between them and being able to implement the rest of their radical liberal agenda," it added.
According to the coalition's president, Roberta Combs, the group has launched an on-line campaign to ensure that the Fairness Doctrine is not reinstituted by Congress or by the Obama administration.
"Congress should resist the urge to shut down radio talk show hosts around the country which is what the 'Fairness Doctrine' would effectively do if brought back," she stated.
Since 1987, Congress has twice passed legislation to restore the Fairness Doctrine. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, however, vetoed the bills.