Senate to Debate Fairness Doctrine Amendment

Would Require Broadcasters to Offer Balanced Viewpoints

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The U.S. Senate is about to get its turn to block the Federal Communications Commission from reviving the fairness doctrine, the policy requiring broadcasters to offer competing viewpoints in a balanced manner when presenting controversial issues.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

A week after Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.; Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; John Thun, R-S.D., and 15 GOP co-sponsors proposed enacting a law mirroring a ban the House already approved, the senators are hoping to instead add the language to an Iraq war appropriations bill now on the Senate floor. A press conference to announce the plan is slated for today.

War debate
A debate and vote on the fairness doctrine amendment could happen by week's end. The Senate today was locked in what could be a long debate on Iraq war-related amendments that could delay consideration of other amendments to the bill.

The fairness doctrine debate occurs under unusual circumstances.

The FCC has shown little indication that it would bring the doctrine back, and while Democrats have expressed some concerns that their message isn't getting fair balance on conservative talk radio, most of the comment on the subject has been only in response to reporters' questions. Only Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., has indicated she is actively looking at legislation, and an aide said she has no specific proposal and was looking at possible changes to the communications law "to ensure there is a degree of fairness."

Still the comments from Democrats -- besides Ms. Feinstein, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., John Kerry, D-Mass., and several congressmen have talked about it -- have stoked concerns of senators and conservative talk-show hosts that the doctrine's revival is imminent.

In the House, the result was an unusual debate.

An archaic doctrine
Republicans led by U.S. Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, called the fairness doctrine archaic in an age when consumers have numerous choices for information. Democrats, meanwhile, questioned the reason for a debate, saying no revival was under consideration and offered to accept the amendment. The House eventually voted 309 to 115 to accept the ban.

The Senate action is on a different appropriations bill than the House considered.
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