Sen. James Inhofe warns that Democrats are seeking to make an “end run” around a recent Senate action outlawing the so-called Fairness Doctrine in an effort to stifle conservative talk radio.
In a press release issued on Wednesday, the Oklahoma Republican decried an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., “encouraging and promoting diversity in communication media ownership,” which Inhofe calls “really just a new means of censorship on the airways.”
The Senate last week passed legislation that prohibits the Federal Communications Commission from reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine.
Originally instituted in 1949 by the FCC and repealed in 1987, the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters using the public airwaves to give equal time to opposing political views. That provision would likely force many radio stations to pull popular conservative hosts from the air rather than air low-rated liberal hosts.
But the Senate also passed Durbin’s amendment, which Inhofe calls the “Durbin Doctrine” and the “new Fairness Doctrine.”
Inhofe’s press release contains a speech he delivered on the Senate floor on Tuesday night.
“Last week’s vote was the first nail in the coffin of the Fairness Doctrine, but it was not the end of the attempt on the part of liberals to regulate the airwaves,” Inhofe said.
“In a straight party-line vote, Democrats chose to adopt Senator Durbin’s amendment 591, which calls on the FCC to ‘encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership and to ensure that broadcast station licenses are used in the public interest,’ and essentially makes an end-run around the Fairness Doctrine.
“This legislation is so incredibly vague and so potentially far-reaching that I can’t say with any certainty what the end result will be. This is not good governance and it is not good legislative practice to cede such authority to any agency of our government, especially when the right to speak freely over the airwaves will most certainly be impacted.
“Not only do I continue to stand firm in my opposition to the Fairness Doctrine, but I am adamantly opposed to any attempt aimed at regulating the airwaves, such as broadcast localism, more stringent licensing requirements, and vague diversity regulations aimed at an industry whose authorizing authority is the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
“Localism” is a vague FCC rule requiring radio and TV stations to serve the interests of their local community by covering local issues, and providing an outlet for local voices, as a condition of keeping their licenses.
If enforced, the rule would mean “that radio stations would have to comply with blanket regulations and broadcast programming that may not be commercially viable, rather than taking into account the diverse needs of communities across the country,” Inhofe said.
“What is perhaps most concerning to me is the enforcement procedure for breaches of localism and diversity promotion. We simply do not know which pathway the FCC will choose when it comes time to enforce these nebulous regulations. License revocation is a real threat to the willingness of broadcasters to appeal to their market rather than conform to FCC regulations…
“Some on the left of the political spectrum are frustrated that more talk radio shows have a conservative political leaning than have a liberal political leaning. In response, I say that the content is market driven. If more people want to listen to a certain type of talk radio, then those programs in demand will be sustained by advertising, donations, and other sources of income. Within the current market system, American consumers are getting what they want…
“I intend to fight against the regulation of free speech, not just the Fairness Doctrine, but in all its various forms…
“Any attempt by a few liberals to reinstate regulation of the airwaves clearly goes against the will of Congress and the American people.”
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