Don't restrict First Amendment
Free speech is fair speech. Yet the so-called Fairness Doctrine restricted free speech. Its comeback would infringe upon the First Amendment.
So dozens of congressional Republicans — but so far, no Democrats — are trying to stop the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine, a long-defunct Federal Communications Commission policy requiring broadcast outlets to "balance" the political discourse it airs.
The FCC dropped the doctrine in 1987, rightly pointing out that it inhibited "the presentation of controversial issues of public importance to the detriment of the public and the degradation of the editorial prerogative of broadcast journalists."
Since then, some top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have called for the doctrine's return. Last summer, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., made this case for its restoration via legislation: "There is a real concern about the monopoly of information and the skewering of information that the American public gets."
Democrats are understandably frustrated by the constant pounding they take from Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio stars who draw large, loyal audiences. Last week, President Obama, during talks on the economic stimulus, warned GOP lawmakers that "you can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done." This week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched an online petition drive to protest this on-air proclamation about the new president by Mr. Limbaugh last week: "I hope he fails."
But you don't have to like right-wing radio to defend broadcasters' freedom to air it without fear of government retribution. The persisting inability of liberal hosts to match conservative radio voices' ratings success can't justify putting Big Brother in charge of who says what on which stations in the name of "fairness."
Citing that fundamental free-speech right, Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and John Thune, R-S.D., have introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009, which would prohibit the Fairness Doctrine's return. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., has introduced a similar bill in the House.
Rep. Hoyer recently said the Democratic leadership in the House will block Rep. Pence's bill from coming to the floor. But he added that reviving the doctrine is not "a major item" on the majority's legislative agenda. And Mr. Obama's office, during last year's presidential campaign, released a statement saying that he didn't support "reimposing the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters."
The new president and new Congress face appropriate, pressing tasks on many critical fronts. Enforcing "fairness" in politically oriented radio commentary is not among them. Passing legislation to guarantee that free speech extends to broadcasters is.