Republican Reps Ask FCC to Officially Scrap Fairness Doctrine


Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R- Ore.), the chairs of the House
Energy & Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee,
respectively, have asked the FCC to get the fairness doctrine and a
couple of their corollaries off the books, pointing to President Obama's
directive earlier this year to federal agencies to review outdated regs
still on the books.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski,
the legislators give the FCC until the end of the week (June 3) to
confirm that it will remove the doctrine and corollaries from the Code
of Federal Regulations.

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.

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repealed by the FCC in 2000.

The chairman has said he has not
interest in reinstating the doctrine, and the President has echoed that
sentiment. But it has remained a perceived threat to some Republicans,
particular given that some powerful Democrats in Congress, including
Senate Communication Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), have in
the past suggested it should be revived as a counter to conservative
talk radio, whose rise coincided with the doctrine's demise ("We take
FCC Chairman Genachowski at his word that he has no interest in bringing
back the Fairness Doctrine. However, it would seem to make sense to
formerly rid the Federal Code of a rule that has long been outdated and

The letter from Upton and Walden, the latter a
former broadcaster himself--quotes the chairman as telling Rep. Walden
in July 2009 that he did not support reinstatement and thought the FCC
should not be censoring political speech. Given that, said the reps,
combined with the President's executive order on clearing out outdated
regs--the FCC as an independent agency is not subject to the directive,
but Genachowski has said the FCC supports it and is reviewing its
regs--they suggest getting rid of the doctrine and corollaries is an
"easy place to start" given that "the FCC has already abandoned them
based on principles you say you continue to support."

"We take
FCC Chairman Genachowski at his word that he has no interest in bringing
back the Fairness Doctrine," said National Association of Broadcasters
spokesman Dennis Wharton. "However, it would seem to make sense to
formally rid the Federal Code of a rule that has long been outdated and

An FCC spokesperson was checking at press time on what the process for doing that would be.