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Fairness Doctrine

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


FAIRNESS DOCTRINE -- (Senate - July 12, 2007)

Mr. INHOFE. Mr. President, today, I want to reiterate something I talked about on Monday and maybe elaborate a little bit. I am one of the cosponsors of an amendment that several people will be discussing today, amendment No. 2020--it is primarily offered by my colleague, Senator Coleman, and myself and Senator DeMint and Senator Thune and, I believe, some others also--to prohibit the reimplementation of the Fairness Doctrine.

Over the past few weeks, the Fairness Doctrine has received quite a bit of attention. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives had a vote on June 28, just a couple weeks ago. The House voted 309 to 115 to prohibit the FCC from using funds to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine.

Now, the Fairness Doctrine is a regulation the FCC developed to require FCC-licensed broadcasters to provide contrasting viewpoints on controversial issues. However, the FCC conducted a review of this regulation in 1985. I remember this well. This was back during the Reagan administration. They concluded--and I am quoting now the FCC:

[W]e no longer believe that the Fairness Doctrine serves the public interest.

In explaining why the FCC reached this conclusion, the FCC wrote--I am quoting again further--

[T]he interest of the public is fully served by the multiplicity of voices in the marketplace today and that the intrusion by government----the intrusion by government----into the content of programming unnecessarily restricts the journalistic freedoms of broadcasters. The FCC's refusal to enforce the Fairness Doctrine was later upheld in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

That is a little bit of the history that took place, and there was not much controversy back in those days. Everybody pretty much agreed this is something that should be driven by the market, driven by the people, as opposed to being spoon-fed to the people by some governmental agency or anybody else.

So you might ask, why would a regulation that was found to be unnecessary over 20 years ago be controversial today? I can tell you why that is. It is because--and I happened to be in the middle of this when it happened--on June 22 I said something on a talk radio show that became quite controversial having to do with a statement I had made to a couple of the Senators of a more liberal standing in the Senate.

They believed the content--which it is--of talk radio has a huge bias toward the conservative viewpoints. Now, I had made the statement--and I hate to sound rash when I do this, but I want to be accurate--I said: Well, you guys don't really understand. This is market driven. The market is driving it. There is no market out there for your liberal tripe.

So it happened, coincidentally, that the day after I made that statement, the Center for American Progress came out with this report. It is called ``The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio.'' Now, I am not critical of the people who are behind this. It is the people from the Clinton White House. Clearly, it is John Podesta, Mark Lloyd, and many others who are in charge of this program. I am not sure. I have heard that the Center for American Progress is supposed to be maybe another viewpoint from the Heritage Foundation. You hear all kinds of things. But this is what is interesting in this report. First of all, they go through and document the fact that in talk radio 91 percent of the content is conservative. I do not disagree with that. They say only 9 percent is progressive, or I would say liberal. I do not disagree with that.

After they make their case, they try to state that there has to be a correction for it. I am going to read just a few excerpts from this report.

They said:

These findings--

Now, the findings we are talking about are the 91 percent--may not be surprising given general impressions about the format, but they are stark and raise serious questions about whether the companies licensed to broadcast over the public airwaves are serving the listening needs of all Americans.

Now, that is really interesting, ``the listening needs of all Americans.'' What are the listening needs of all Americans? Who is going to determine that? Anyway, that is what they seem to be hanging their hat on. They said:

Our conclusion is--

I am reading from this report which is from the Center for American Progress. That is John Podesta and Mark Lloyd and the rest of that group.

Our conclusion is that the gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multistructural problems in the U.S. regulatory system.

It goes on to explain this. And then--I am kind of a slow learner. But after I figured out what they were talking about, they were talking about there are regulations that could be violated, or the intent of regulations could be in violation here. So they talk about some prescribed regulations to correct this problem.

Now I move to page 11 of this report, and they come to this conclusion. They said:

If commercial radio broadcasters are unwilling to abide by these regulatory standards or the FCC is unable to effectively regulate in the public interest, a spectrum use fee should be levied on owners to directly support local, regional, and national public broadcasting.

You cannot get more socialistic than that in the comments. Now, the whole idea they are saying that not only then would talk show hosts who have a strong bias in one way or another lose their shows--let's say Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, any of the rest of them--but they also would have to be fined and that money would go to support public broadcasting. Now, that is what caused the interest after 20 years.

When I say it is market driven, if you do not believe that, look at the effort by Al Franken and other liberals who tried to start Air America. Air America was designed to be on the liberal side. The problem was, nobody wanted to listen to it. So this is the problem that is out there, that people want to get away from what is market driven.

We went through this same exercise, I might add, not too long ago, about a year ago, I think it was. We had various--let's see, Armed Forces Radio. I have it here somewhere. There are three different radio stations that reach our troops around the world--not just in Iraq and Afghanistan but around the world. So there was an effort to prescribe programming so it would be equally liberal and conservative. Then there was an uproar by our troops over there because they did not want that. So through their publications, the Army Times and some other publications, they determined what they wanted to listen to, and it was primarily conservative.

So that is what has brought this thing up, and several people in the House and several people in the Senate--in this body--have said: We need to get the FCC to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine.

Now, the amendment that was passed in the House of Representatives by that huge margin I just mentioned was to prohibit the FCC from changing its viewpoint as far as the Fairness Doctrine is concerned.

I have been outspoken on this issue for some time. For example, on the Defense authorization legislation we made quite an issue out of this. By the way, I might want to add, we won that battle. We ended up now so they are getting the programming they want, and it happens to be--this is quite a coincidence--it happens to be about the same--91 percent versus 9 percent--that the people are demanding today in terms of the market. The same principle applies again.

I have long said that talk radio is market driven. There simply is not much market for some of this other stuff that is out there. Some Senators have made it clear they intend to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, but free speech is fundamental to what it means to be an American, and it must be protected. Reimposing some form of the Fairness Doctrine threatens first amendment rights. We all know that. But really what is most important is it gets to be very similar to some of these countries we criticize all the time where the government is trying to take over what comes through their airwaves.

So I am pleased to join my many colleagues, including Senators Coleman, DeMint, and Thune, in supporting this amendment, and I urge the Senate to speak just as definitely against the Fairness Doctrine.

I have a letter from the National Association of Broadcasters. In this letter--I will not read the whole thing--it winds up by saying:

In the 20 years since elimination of the Fairness Doctrine, there has been a veritable explosion in alternative media outlets. Today, there are over 13,000 radio stations, more than 1,700 TV stations, nine broadcast TV networks, hundreds of cable and satellite channels, scores of mobile media devices and an infinite number of Internet sites that cater to every political persuasion and ideology. The Internet now enables consumers to obtain, and communicate to the world, virtually unlimited content.

Of course, this is a strong endorsement of our position by the National Association of Broadcasters. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that this letter be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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