FCC finally eliminates Fairness Doctrine

WASHINGTON (BP) -- The Federal Communications Commission has finally removed the Fairness Doctrine from its rules, nearly a quarter of a century after the agency stopped enforcing the controversial policy.

The National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) applauded the long-awaited action.

The Fairness Doctrine was an FCC policy that required television and radio broadcasters to balance opposing views on controversial issues of public significance. The rule had the effect, however, of causing many broadcasters to avoid controversial topics.

The FCC rescinded the policy in 1987, nearly 40 years after it began enforcing it. Rules regarding the Fairness Doctrine remained in federal regulations, however, until the FCC formally announced their elimination.

Congressional liberals had sought in recent years to revive the Fairness Doctrine as conservative talk shows and networks gained leadership in listener and viewer ratings, but they were unsuccessful.

In announcing the action Aug. 22, the FCC said the Fairness Doctrine was one of more than 80 "outdated and obsolete media–related rules" that were deleted.

Elimination of the Fairness Doctrine language "will remove an unnecessary distraction," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who had made clear his opposition to the policy. "As I have said, striking this from our books ensures there can be no mistake that what has long been a dead letter remains dead. The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago."

The NRB, which described it as a "day of genuine celebration," had been warning Congress for eight years that the policy "was not dead because it was still 'on the books,'" said Frank Wright, president of the international association of Christian communicators. "We are delighted that [Genachowski] has followed through on his promise to fully eliminate this pernicious rule, which enabled the FCC to compel broadcasters to air opposing viewpoints on controversial issues that the government decided to be of public importance."

Religious and conservative broadcasters have opposed restoration of the Fairness Doctrine or a policy that would have a similar effect. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and host of two radio programs, has expressed concerns that the Obama administration and members of Congress might seek to restrict broadcasters' free speech through boards with the authority to determine what constitutes "fair" expression of ideas on local stations.

The NRB "will remain vigilant" in working to prevent implementation of the concepts represented by the Fairness Doctrine, Wright said.

"While the letter of the law is now dead, we want to ensure that the spirit of this particular law also remains dead," Wright said in a written statement. "There are many voices calling for increased scrutiny of broadcast programming under the guise of 'localism,' and we see such proposals as a Fairness Doctrine in different garb. Therefore, NRB will continue to advocate for the most generous application of First Amendment principles both at the federal level and on the local level, knowing that Americans' religious liberties are most secure when they are kept out of the hands of government bureaucracies."


Compiled by Tom Strode, Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.

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