According to a spokesperson for the Media Research Center and its Free Speech Alliance initiative, the group delivered almost 400,000 petitions to house Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to hold a floor vote on a stand-alone bill to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from reimposing the Fairness Doctrine.
Acting FCC chairman Michael Copps has said he has no intention of doing so, but MRC and its president are concerned that the doctrine, or something like it, might return in the guise of localism initiatives Copps is backing. Copps has called tying the two together is issue-mongering.
MRC wants to get every member of Congress on the record either for or against the Broadcaster Freedom Act. The petition drop was part of a week-long effort to push for the vote, including encouraging alliance members to call and fax Pelosi and Reid, and getting some publicity from radio talkers.
Before it was scrapped by the Reagan FCC in 1987 as unconstitutional, the doctrine required broadcasters to both cover issues of public importance and to seek out opposing viewpoints on those issues.
Bozell has called the doctrine "an act of government censorship better suited for Hugo Chavez and Venezuela."
The Senate did vote to approve an anti-fairness doctrine amendment earlier this year --so the Senate is on the record (87 to 11). But it was attached to the unrelated D.C. voting rights bill, which has yet to pass. In addition, the amended fairness doctrine-blocking bill left room for adoption of localism/program diversity proposals. In addition, the amended version allowed for the localism initiatives--potentially including community advisory boards and more explicit programming reporting to the FCC--that MRC and others are concerned could have a chilling effect on speech or put government in the business of determining public affairs content.
Attempts were made to pass similar bills in the last Congress. In fact, the House passed a bill sponsored by Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a former radio talk show host, that put a one-year moratorium on funding any FCC reimposition of the doctrine. Democrats, led by David Obey (D-Wisc..), suggested that the amendment was a red herring, a nonissue and that it was being debated, such as it was -- no Democrats stood to oppose it -- to provide sound bites for conservative talkers and "yap yap TV," who had ginned up the issue.