Broadcasters were hit with a double whammy Thursday when the Senate passed a bill requiring deep discounts in ad rates charged for political commercials and attached a measure that reinstates the Fairness Doctrine.
Both provisions were part of sweeping campaign reform legislation endorsed by the Clinton administration to curb the influence of special interest money on elections.
The bill, passed by a 60-38 margin, faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives.
The legislation allows Senate candidates who agree to abide by campaign-year spending limits to buy political ads at half the “lowest unit rate” normally charged by broadcasters.
National Assn. of Broadcasters prez Eddie Fritts blasted the bill as “the ultimate piece of special interest legislation. Senators have used consumer dissatisfaction with the political process as a cover to grant themselves a special financial advantage.
“We are outraged that they have chosen to conduct this charade at broadcasters’ expense.”
Senators also attached to the bill lingo that reinstates the Fairness Doctrine, the former FCC rule that required broadcasters to air both sides of a controversial issue.
The FCC killed the reg in 1987, arguing that it was no longer needed in an era of exploding media diversity. Soon thereafter, Congress passed a law reinstating the rule, but then-President Reagan vetoed the measure.