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Backers Reintroduce Effort to Forbid Fairness Doctrine

Free speech 'is now threatened by some liberal ideologues who are frustrated with the free flow of ideas on talk radio'

Efforts are being renewed on Capitol Hill to forbid, in advance, any attempt by the Federal Communications Commission to reinstate a Fairness Doctrine.

It’s unclear how well organized or widespread a push for a new Fairness Doctrine is or might be; the sponsors of this measure believe it is a credible threat and say they want to prevent Democrats “from suppressing the right to free speech for talk radio and other broadcasters.”

Reps. Mike Pence and Greg Walden and Sens. Jim DeMint and John Thune, all Republicans, introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009.

They continued their argument of the past couple of years that a new Fairness Doctrine push is planned by Democrats and that it would suppress free speech by requiring the government to monitor political views and decide what constitutes fair political discourse. They’ve not been able to get a bill through in prior attempts.

According to Pence this week, “Over the past few months, some of the most powerful Democrats in Congress have made their intentions to restore this Depression-era regulation clear.” DeMint said, “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. But the First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees the right of free speech, regardless of political affiliation, and this legislation will protect this sacred right.”

In the famous 1969 Red Lion case, a unanimous Supreme Court supported the Fairness Doctrine concept; Justice Byron White wrote then, “There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the Government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others.” But both judicial and media environments have changed since then, and the policy has been the subject of much debate in broadcast and legal circles, even after it was lifted in the 1980s.