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Walden fighting again for broadcasters’ right to free speech
Walden, a longtime radio station owner and operator, wants to preserve First Amendment rights for broadcast media
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) today reintroduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act (H.R. 226), a bill that would block government censorship of political, religious, and other speech on the radio and public airwaves. The bill was introduced with 130 original cosponsors.
“The founders would spin in their graves at the thought of the government censoring speech on many of today’s radio and television stations,” said Walden, who owned and operated radio stations for more than 21 years and is part of a small town broadcast family that dates back to the 1930s. “Yet that’s just what some Democratic leaders seem to be after. Whether as a throwback to the old Fairness Doctrine or under a less controversial guise, any effort to exert government control over speech on the airwaves is an insult to the principles behind the First Amendment.”
In 1985, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed the so-called Fairness Doctrine, an archaic government regulation from the 1940’s that required public broadcasters to present contrasting viewpoints on controversial topics due to a scarcity of media outlets. The guideline was so vague that most broadcasters avoided controversial topics altogether.
In 1949, only 2,881 radio stations existed. Today, that number is just under 14,000. Likewise, the number of television and Internet outlets available to the consumer has grown exponentially. The scarcity argument has never been weaker.
Since its repeal, public discourse and debate on the public airwaves has flourished, leading to the rise of conservative personalities like Rush Limbaugh, 24-hour liberal enterprises like Air America, and specialized programming like religious broadcasting. If the federal government begins meddling again with the First Amendment rights of those on the radio under the guise of “fairness,” it would usher in another dark age of radio programming.
Even the founding president of Air America, Jon Sinton, says government rule over the airwaves would be a big mistake. In a December 22 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, he writes, “The Fairness Doctrine is an anachronistic policy that, with the abundance of choices on radio today, is entirely unnecessary.”
The Broadcaster Freedom Act would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from reinstating the requirement that broadcasters present opposing viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance. The same legislation was introduced last Congress as H.R. 2085 and had 208 cosponsors.
Supporters of government censorship
Still, some prominent Democrats in Washington have publicly voiced their support for a reinstatement of government control over radio speech:
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin: “It’s time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine. I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they’re in a better position to make a decision.” (The Hill, June 27, 2007)
Senator John Kerry: “I think the Fairness Doctrine ought to be there and I also think equal time doctrine ought to come back.” (Brian Lehrer Radio Show, June 26, 2007)
Senator Dianne Feinstein told FOX News Sunday that she was reviewing the Fairness Doctrine because "talk radio is overwhelmingly one way." (June 24, 2007)
Senator Jeff Bingaman: “I would want this station and all stations to have to present a balanced perspective and different points of view instead of always hammering away at one side of the political — … Well I guess my thought is that talk radio and media generally should have a higher calling than just reflect a particular point of view. I think they should use their authority to try to – their broadcast power to present an informed discussion of public issues. KKOB used to be a, used to live under the Fairness Doctrine… All I’m saying is that for many, many years we operated under a Fairness Doctrine in this country, and I think the country was well-served. I think the public discussion was at a higher level and more intelligent in those days than it has become since.” (On 770 AM KKOB, October 21, 2008)
And while President-Elect Barack Obama has yet to endorse government censorship of talk radio, he may not have to in order to facilitate its return. All that’s needed is an FCC regulation – FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said they could try a new angle to achieve the same ends as the Fairness Doctrine:
“What we do need is to make sure our airwaves are open and covering a lot of local events, covering local political races, making sure viewers and listeners both can benefit from a clash of antagonistic ideas and issues being covered. Even though the Fairness Doctrine is gone, that’s still in the Telecommunications Act. Do you go back to a controversial doctrine that was really the product of a previous age when media was different, or do you try to go forward and say, ‘How do we do that now with modern communications and a different media environment?’ We need to have debate about how you keep these airwaves serving the public interest and nourishing the public dialogue our democracy depends on. We still want to be sure we have that kind of free-flowing debate and cover the issues people need covered to make intelligent decisions.” (R&R, October 28, 2008)
“Under any name, government intervention in the speech on the airwaves is nothing more than censorship,” Walden said. “There has never been a more diverse range of opinions on the public airwaves than there is today. There’s no need to fix what isn’t broken.”
Congressman Greg Walden represents the Oregon’s Second Congressional District, which is comprised of 20 counties in eastern, southern, and central Oregon.
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