Monday, November 19, 2007

Rep. Boyda on the Fairness Doctrine

I wrote to Rep. Nancy Boyda about my concerns about efforts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, which is an effort to silence conservative voices on talk radio by forcing broadcasters to provide alternative views (the result of which would be programming so lame and uninteresting to the consumers who have flocked to conservative programming because their views aren't found elsewhere that they would turn off the radio).

Here is her response:

Thank you for your interest in the recent House action prohibiting the use of federal money to enforce the Fairness Doctrine. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on the issues facing Congress.

America's founders understood that democracy depends on the free dissemination of ideas and information. They enshrined that principle in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits Congress from making any law ".abridging the freedom of speech or of the press." Throughout our history, newspapers, books and magazines have provided the widest array of fact and opinion to the public, making dissenting views accessible to all.

With the development of radio and television, the limited availability of the airwaves made it impossible for all persons who wanted broadcast licenses to get them. The Radio Act of 1927, authorized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to issue broadcast licenses only if it would serve the "public convenience, interest or necessity." Persons who acquired licenses were considered public trustees, responsible for operating in the public interest. They were required to demonstrate "due regard for the opinions of others."

In 1949, the FCC formally adopted this policy as the Fairness Doctrine. It became federal law in 1959 when Congress amended the Communications Act of 1934. Much of the doctrine was aimed at ensuring fair treatment for political candidates. Stations were not required to provide equal time to opposing views, to have an equally balanced programming schedule or to have each program internally balanced. It did, however, require broadcasters "to afford a reasonable opportunity for discussion of conflicting views on matters of public importance."

In 1987, as a result of deregulation efforts as well as the increase in cable television channels, the FCC ended the Fairness Doctrine. Congress attempted to re-establish it as law earlier that year, but did not have enough votes to override President Reagan's veto. Since then, broadcast licensees have not had to abide by the Fairness Doctrine.

Recently, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana proposed an amendment to the Financial Services and General Governmental FY 2008 Appropriations Act, to prohibit the use of federal funds to enforce the Fairness Doctrine. The House passed the amendment 309-115. I voted against the amendment because it was unnecessary. The Fairness Doctrine does not exist now.

I am, however, very concerned about the effect of consolidation on media ownership. When the stations owning the airwaves are concentrated in the hands of a few, it makes it very difficult for people to find avenues of information that offer differing points of view. I firmly believe that each person should stay informed on current events and social issues and our responsibility to seek out multiple media sources to make informed decisions.

Let me be clear - I do not oppose conservative talk radio. I appear once a month on the Jim Cates Show and enjoy the conversation tremendously. I am concerned that it is becoming more difficult for all viewpoints to participate in the "marketplace of ideas" that our founding fathers envisioned two centuries ago. Democracy thrives when we all get involved.

Thank you for contacting me. Your interest in this issue is greatly appreciated.


Nancy Boyda
Member of Congress

My reply to her is simply that conservative talk radio IS least provides a sliver of it when conservative viewpoints and information can be found in so few places. A true fairness doctrine would force the editorial decision makers in the mainstream press to provide balance in their coverage. But, of course, those who do offer conservative viewpoints are sneered at for being shills for the right.

I don't agree with Rep. Boyda on hardly anything, but I will give her credit for always being willing to answer questions.

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At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Gowan said...

Thanks for writing to Boyda to get her response. I'm still a little unsure if she is for the Doctrine or against it. I've done some work with NAB, and we've noticed a lot of times when people talk about "media reform" they're usually talking about a backdoor to the Doctrine. But keep up the good work and let's make sure that Congress puts the Doctrine to sleep for good.


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