Genachowski Plans To Delete Fairness Doctrine From Code Of Federal Regs

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FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has told Congress he supports striking the so-called 'fairness doctrine' and a couple of its corollaries from the Code of Federal Regulations.

That came in a letter responding to a request from Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R- Ore.), the chairs of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee, that the FCC officially deep-six the doctrine, pointing to President Obama's directive earlier this year to federal agencies to review outdated regs still on the books.

"I fully support deleting the Fairness Doctrine and related provisions form the Code of Federal Regulations," he wrote in a letter dated June 6 (a copy of which was obtained by B&C), " so that there can be no mistake that what has been a dead letter is truly dead." He said that his staff was currently reviewing its regs, which has focused to date on rules still actively governing licensees, but that he expected they would recommend the deletion of the fairness doctrine and related corollaries, which provided for free response time for personal attacks and equal time for other candidates if a station endorsed a candidate in an editorial. The corollaries were repealed by the FCC in 2000.

"I look forward to effectuating this change when acting on the staff's recommendations and anticipate that the process can be completed in the near future," he wrote. He reiterated that he felt the doctrine had the potential to chill speech and should have been abandoned when it was more than two decades ago.

The issue came up after Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell pointed out in a speech that, although the FCC ruled back in 1987 that the doctrine was unconstitutional and unenforceable, the doctrine remained in the Code of Federal Regulations, which meant essentially it was teed up if a future commission decided to enforce it.

McDowell suggested that it was high time to take it off the books, and the Republican legislators agree.

The doctrine required TV stations to air controversial issues of public importance and seek out opposing viewpoints. Also still on the books are corollaries to the doctrine providing for free response time for personal attacks and providing equal time for other candidates if a station endorsed a candidate in an editorial. The corollaries were repealed by the FCC in 2000.

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