Alexander, Corker Back Legislation to Protect Freedom of Speech

Senate Passes Amendment to Prevent Restricting Political Views on Airwaves

Posted on February 26, 2009

The U.S. Senate today passed legislation cosponsored by U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine requiring the government to regulate and restrict political views on the airways. The amendment passed the Senate by a vote of 87 – 11. "The idea that government should dictate what views are aired on radio or television stations is an affront to our country's centuries-old belief in the importance of a free and independent press," said Alexander. "The so-called Fairness Doctrine is, in fact, an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and Democrats should stop trying to use the heavy hand of government to silence their critics on talk radio." “Allowing the government to regulate views aired on a broadcast could open the door to abuse through political pressure and significantly curtail freedom of speech,” said Corker. “Broadcasters should have the right to choose programming based upon their own business decisions not based on what bureaucrats in Washington think should be on our airwaves.” In addition to cosponsoring the amendment, Alexander and Corker are also cosponsors of the Broadcaster Freedom Act (S. 34), a freestanding bill that would prohibit reinstitution of the Fairness Doctrine. In 1949, the FCC established the Fairness Doctrine requiring broadcasters to provide fair and balanced public affairs related programming. In 1985, the FCC determined that the Fairness Doctrine was no longer necessary due to the emergence of a “multiplicity of voices in the marketplace,” and that it also might be in violation of First Amendment rights. In 1987, the FCC formally abolished the Fairness Doctrine following a federal court’s ruling that the FCC was not statutorily bound to enforce it. That same year, President Reagan vetoed legislation that sought to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine, and his veto was not overridden. Recently, several prominent Democrats have been discussing the possibility of bringing back the Fairness Doctrine through new legislation.