Thursday, February 26, 2009

Congressman Pence Writes...

The American people love a fair fight and so do I, especially where the issues of the day are debated. In a free market, fairness should be determined based upon equality of opportunity, rather than equality of results. Some voices are calling for Congress to enforce their idea of “fairness” on our broadcast airwaves. But our nation should proceed with caution whenever some would achieve their “fairness” by limiting the freedom of others.

The so-called ‘Fairness Doctrine’ is an Orwellian Federal Communications Commission rule that beginning in 1949 required radio and television broadcasters to present controversial issues in a fair and balanced manner. But there's nothing fair about the Fairness Doctrine. To avoid administrative costs and hours of paperwork and legal fees, broadcasters opted to offer noncontroversial programming. As a result, talk radio, as we know it today, simply did not exist.

Putting unelected FCC bureaucrats back in charge of rationing free speech would be dangerous to democracy in America. The free marketplace of ideas – not a government bureaucracy – should determine the content of broadcast media. As a former radio talk show host, I know what the reinstatement of the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ would mean – effectively muzzling American talk radio.

Recognizing the chilling effect that the regulation was having on broadcast freedom, the FCC began to revoke the Fairness Doctrine in 1985. The FCC stated, "the intrusion by government into the content of programming occasioned by the enforcement of [the Fairness Doctrine] restricts the journalistic freedom of broadcasters ... [and] actually inhibits the presentation of controversial issues of public importance to the detriment of the public and the degradation of the editorial prerogative of broadcast journalists.” That statement is just as true today as it was then. Following repeal of the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ and President Reagan’s veto of attempts to reinstate it, the results have been dramatic.

The lifting of the Fairness Doctrine opened the public airwaves to a free and vigorous discussion of controversial issues that never existed before its repeal. When Rush Limbaugh began his legendary career, there were 125 talk radio stations in America. Today, there are 2,000. While Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and other conservative giants dominate the national syndicated market, many moderate and liberal programs succeed admirably at the local level.

Sadly, some of the most powerful elected Democrats in America have said that Congress should bring back this outright censorship of the American political debate. Should the liberals succeed in their effort to reimpose the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ or anything like it they will inflict great damage on the First Amendment and send talk show hosts—left, right and center—packing. Freedom of speech and of the press are cherished pillars of our society and nowhere would their loss be more keenly felt than on our airwaves.

During my years in radio and television, I developed a great respect for a free and independent press. Since being in Congress, I have been the recipient of praise and criticism from broadcast media, but it has not changed my fundamental belief that a free and independent press must be vigorously defended by those who love liberty lest the frank and informative discussions now blossoming on the airwaves of America should one day fall silent.

Together with Congressman Greg Walden, I have authored the Broadcaster Freedom Act, a bill to make permanent the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine by taking away the FCC’s power to reinstate it without an act of Congress.
If the Broadcaster Freedom Act is brought to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, we have every confidence it will pass, because when freedom gets an up-or-down vote in the People’s House, freedom always wins.

Submitted by: Congressman Pence

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent entry, sir! Your first paragraph says it all. I hope your Broadcaster Freedom Act does indeed pass soon b/c that will allow me to feel a bit more confident in my Congress, which hasn't been easy lately...

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