Alexander: Broadcasters Must Be Free From So-Called Fairness Doctrine

“The so-called Fairness Doctrine is, in fact, an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, and Democrats should stop trying to use the heavy hand of government to silence their critics on talk radio.”

Posted on March 11, 2008

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, today made the following remarks on the so-called Fairness Doctrine as the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) met in Nashville, Tennessee, for its 2008 convention. “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. 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. The Fairness Doctrine is an idea Washington has debated for far too long, and it’s time we dispense with the concept once and for all.” In 1949, the Federal Communications Commission established the Fairness Doctrine, which required 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 might also be a 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. Several prominent Democrats have discussed the possibility of bringing back the Fairness Doctrine through new legislation. Alexander is a co-sponsor of S. 1748, the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2007, which would prohibit the FCC from reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.