Wicker Joins Effort to Prevent Reinstatement of So-Called “Fairness Doctrine”

In an effort to prevent the Democratic majority in Congress from silencing talk radio by resurrecting the so-called “Fairness Doctrine,” U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has cosponsored the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009.  This legislation would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine and would keep our airwaves free from government censorship and suppression.

“Leading members of the Democratic majority in Congress have talked recently about their desire to reinstate the so-called Fairness Doctrine,” Sen. Wicker said.  “The reinstatement of this rule would be decidedly unfair and would smother healthy debate in our country at a time when we are dealing with difficult issues that demand vigorous public discussion.

“Freedom of speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment, is part of the foundation our country was built upon.  The so-called Fairness Doctrine would severely infringe on that right.  Our government does not, nor should it ever, have the right to modify that freedom and thus regulate content of speech,” Wicker said.   

The Fairness Doctrine was an FCC rule that was first put into effect in 1949.  Its intent was to mandate “fairness” over the airways by requiring broadcasters to provide equal airtime for opposing points of view on controversial topics.  In short, the federal government mandated that a conservative viewpoint be countered by a liberal viewpoint (and vice versa) in an attempt to be “fair.”

The justification for the rule was the “scarcity” of broadcast channels in the 1940s and the perceived need for the government to ensure broadcast fairness.  At the time the Fairness Doctrine was put in place, television was in its infancy and there were only a limited number of AM radio stations.  As time went on, the advent of FM radio and cable television drastically increased the number of channels available to consumers, making the scarcity argument less and less defensible.  The rule, which was in place for nearly four decades, was finally repealed by the Reagan Administration in 1987.  Since then, Congress has twice passed legislation restoring the Fairness Doctrine, but Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush vetoed the bills.

The Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009, S. 34, introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D, has 23 original cosponsors.  The bill is the companion to House legislation introduced by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.