Moves are afoot to head off any Democratic efforts to reinstate the so-called Fairness Doctrine and stifle conservative talk radio.
A group of radio insiders has formed the Free Radio Coalition to fight the reinstatement, Radio America President James Roberts said on Tuesday.
Radio America talk show host and former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock will chair the coalition.
“The reinstatement of the misnamed Fairness Doctrine would constitute a massive assault on our cherished First Amendment rights and should be of concern to all Americans, regardless of their political or religious persuasion,” Hedgecock said.
Group members want to hold a conference of talk show hosts and religious broadcasters in Washington to plan strategy, the Washington Times reported.
They also plan to prepare expert testimony in case the Federal Communications Commission or congressional committees hold hearings on the Doctrine.
A Barack Obama spokesman recently said the president opposes reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine. But a number of Democratic senators, including Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Charles Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois have expressed support for such a move.
Originally instituted in 1949 by the FCC, the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters using the public airwaves to give equal time to opposing political views. The FCC repealed the measure in 1987.
Since talk radio is overwhelmingly dominated by conservative hosts, and liberal talk radio draws few listeners, the “equal time” provision would likely force many radio stations to pull popular conservative hosts from the air rather than air low-rated liberal hosts.
Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who has guest-hosted on Laura Ingraham’s conservative radio talk show, is seeking to bar the FCC from using taxpayer funds to enforce the Doctrine.
He has drafted an amendment to the $410 billion omnibus spending bill that would block the FCC from resuming the policy, The Hill newspaper reported.
“Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine today would amount to government control over political views expressed on the public airwaves,” said Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference.
“The American people cherish freedom, especially freedom of speech and of the press.”
In 2007, the House voted overwhelmingly to prevent the FCC from enforcing the Doctrine with taxpayer funds.
But Pence is concerned that on March 6, when the stopgap measure funding the government expires, Democrats could seek to put the policy back in place.
“While a permanent ban is ideal, in the short term the Pence amendment would reassure freedom-loving Americans that the national asset of talk radio would remain free from censorship for the next year,” Pence said in a statement.
Last week Newsmax reported that Sen. Jim DeMint announced that he would force a vote on a bill preventing the FCC from reinstating the Doctrine.
The South Carolina Republican said the bill, the Broadcaster Freedom Act, would be offered as an amendment to the D.C. Voting Rights bill.
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