FCC feels Hill’s heat on fairness

Congress is pressuring the FCC to reinstate the fairness doctrine, which required broadcasters to air both sides of a controversial issue. The rule was repealed in 1987.

A Federal Communications Commission staffer confirmed the agency is getting “heat” from Capitol Hill on the issue, although the aide would not identify the lawmakers involved. According to Radio-Television News Directors Assn. prez David Bartlett, the pressure is coming from Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the powerful chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. A Dingell staffer denied Bartlett’s claim.

In 1987, the FCC under then-chairman Dennis Patrick jettisoned the fairness doctrine on grounds that it could no longer be justified in an era of cable TV and other burgeoning media outlets. A congressional effort to codify the regulation died when proponents failed to muster enough votes to override PresidentReagan’s veto.

Most D.C. observers expected Congress would easily reinstate the rule following the election of President Clinton in 1992. However, the effort died last year after Rush Limbaugh and other radio talkshow hosts engineered a well-organized effort to kill the proposal.

Those who support revival of the fairness doctrine may get help via a petition filed by a CBS affiliate asking the FCC to eliminate the primetime access rule. The petition argues that since the FCC nixed the fairness doctrine on grounds that there is no longer a scarcity of spectrum, it should do likewise with PTAR.

The PTAR petition seemingly gives the FCC a golden opportunity to revive the fairness doctrine.

Bartlett of the news directors org called it “reprehensible” that since Congress “couldn’t do something legislatively, they’re now telling the FCC to it with regulations.”

Bartlett said he hopes the FCC will reject entreaties from Congress to reinstate the reg. “They (the FCC members) didn’t take an oath to uphold John Dingell,” he said. “They took an oath to uphold the Constitution.”

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