Press Conference with Rep. John Boehner (R-OH); Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO); Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL); Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN); and Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR)
Subject: Broadcaster Freedom Discharge Petition
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REP. PENCE: Good afternoon everyone. I'm Congressman Mike Pence from the Sixth District of Indiana, and I appreciate your time this afternoon.
The time has come to do away with the Fairness Doctrine once and for all, and I'm very moved to be joined in partnership by the distinguished leadership of the Republican conference: Republican Leader John Boehner, Republican Whip Roy Blunt, our conference chairman, Adam Putnam, Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor, and especially, I'm pleased to be joined by my original co-author of the Broadcaster Freedom Act, Congressman Greg Walden, a former broadcaster and radio station owner. And I want to thank each of them for their tireless work since this summer on behalf of broadcast freedom in America.
In June, we saw 309 members of the House of Representatives vote for an amendment to ban the Fairness Doctrine for the next fiscal year. It was an extraordinary and bipartisan statement for broadcast freedom, but more must be done, and that more is that the Broadcaster Freedom Act must be brought to the floor of the House of Representatives.
The Broadcaster Freedom Act would simply ensure that no future president could regulate the airwaves of America without an act of Congress, but it has yet to be scheduled for a vote on the floor. This morning, along with the entire Republican leadership of the House of Representatives and Congressman Greg Walden, I filed a discharge petition on the Broadcaster Freedom Act. The American people should know if 218 members of Congress sign this petition we can demand an up-or-down vote on legislation that would keep the Fairness Doctrine from ever coming back.
To my colleagues in Congress I respectfully say, if you oppose the Fairness Doctrine, sign the petition. If you cherish the dynamic national asset that is American talk radio, sign the petition. Or if you simply believe that broadcast freedom deserves an up-or-down vote on the floor of the people's House, sign the petition.
Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine would amount to government control over political views expressed on the public airwaves. Unfortunately, some of the nation's most powerful elected officials have said in recent weeks and months that Congress should bring back this outright regulation of the American political debate. But as I said, when 309 members voted in June to ban the Fairness Doctrine for just one year, they demonstrated the broad bipartisan support that exists in the House for ending the specter of the so-called Fairness Doctrine once and for all.
I urge all my colleagues, but especially those who supported broadcast freedom earlier this year, to sign the discharge petition for H.R. 2905 and bring the Broadcaster Freedom Act to the floor of the Congress.
If 218 members of Congress will sign this discharge petition, the Broadcaster Freedom Act will come to the floor, and it will pass. Because, as we witnessed in yesterday's overwhelming vote in favor of the Free Flow of Information Act, when freedom gets an up or down vote in the people's House, freedom always wins.
And with that, it's my pleasure to recognize the Republican leader in the House, John Boehner.
REP. BOEHNER: Well, thanks, Mike, and let me thank you for your tireless work on this issue and thank Greg Walden from Oregon for his work in putting together this bill that will make permanent the Broadcaster Freedom Act.
As Mike said, in June, there were 309 members who voted to make sure this wasn't coming back over the next year. And there's really no reason why each of those 309 members, who voted in June to keep this thing away, wouldn't sign on the discharge petition. And when you begin to think about what it is that we're doing here, it's about freedom.
Yesterday, we made it clear to those in the media that you ought to be able to do your job without being interfered with by the courts. Today what we're saying is that those who broadcast on radio and TV ought to be able to do their job without interference from the federal government.
If you go back to the 1940s and '50s, maybe there was some reason to have the Fairness Doctrine. You know, you had three TV channels -- maybe -- and you may have had a handful of radio stations. But today people get their information from all different kinds of sources, whether it be the Internet, whether it be blogs, whether it be newsletters, e-mails, 24-hour news networks, the big networks are all still around, radio stations of all sorts -- and there's a lot of competition. So if you don't like what you're hearing on the air, you can just change the dial, turn it off, turn on your computer. There's a lot of options.
And so I think that making sure that the Fairness Doctrine does not come back is in the best interests of the American people. It'll allow all Americans to have to say whatever they want to say, and they're responsible for it, and at the end of the day, freedom works.
REP. : In my view, nothing could be more unfair than requiring people to talk about things just because somebody else talks about something else. This is a phony doctrine. It's badly titled. The Supreme Court said it doesn't make sense, the FCC said it doesn't make sense. It's time for the Congress to say not only does it not make sense but no bureaucrat in the future can come in and decide to reimpose this.
You've heard some of our colleagues a couple of weeks ago, when the truly phony, phony soldier issue was raised (by ?) Rush Limbaugh, that maybe we needed to do something about what people were saying on the radio. You know, people that listen to the radio, people that turn on TV can decide how to do something about that. And the problem here is that rather than get out there and engage in the fight for ideas, there are a number of people who just like to say let's eliminate this discussion on the radio by ensuring that a lot of things would have to be talked about that nobody wants to listen to.
There is -- talk radio is an important part of the country today. What people want to say on that diversity of messaging instruments that the leader talked about is an important part of the country today.
There's nothing fair about the Fairness Doctrine. This is a time for the Congress to step forward, as Mr. Walden and Mr. Pence have been leading this fight for us to do, and say, if this is ever reinstated, it couldn't be reinstated unless the Congress of the United States made the decision. And as Mike said and as we proved yesterday, when the House is allowed to work its will on these issues of freedom of expression, on the issues of freedom of press, the will of the House is pretty clear, and will be on this too if we can see that this bill comes to the floor.
MR. : Thank you, Mr. Whip.
And I think it's important that we once again view something that is mislabeled. The Fairness Doctrine has nothing to do with fairness or with free speech, and everything to do with the Democrats losing the battle of ideas on the radio, both regionally and nationally. With a big splash, liberals tried to make headway of their own, using this particular medium, with Air America, and it went bankrupt after two years on the air.
So now the Democrats are going to open the airwaves to their allies, whether they have earned it or not, and whether the listeners are there or not. We may as well call it the Government Censorship Doctrine. It would have a chilling effect on grassroots conservative voices that would be punished for speaking to salient issues before a broad-based audience.
This is totally out of step with the core values of the American people, who pride themselves on being pretty shrewd consumers in the marketplace of ideas. And as has been said, there are hundreds of outlets, both old media and new media, for them to be consumers of those ideas. This summer, we had over 300 votes that reinforced this notion, and we hope that those same Democrats who joined us earlier this summer, to affirm their support for freedom of the airwaves, will rally behind this effort and keep their philosophy consistent with their voting record, as it relates to allowing consumers to decide and not government bureaucrats.
MR. : You know, a lot of the time in Washington, we sort of get hung up on inside-the-Beltway perspective. And if we take a look and listen to what the American people are saying, it's pretty obvious that people across this country are fed up with the inability to get this bill and this issue resolved. From online petitions to dinner table conversations to talk radio debate, no question, the American people are against the Democrat action to censor free speech. You ask this question, the response will be overwhelmingly that the airwaves should be free of government regulations. And frankly the bottom line is, Democrats need to bring this bill, Broadcaster Freedom Act, to the floor.
It was mentioned earlier, but let's just remember where this Congress is.
It's at 11 percent approval rating. Democrats have clearly lost the battle of ideas, and now they're trying to change the rules of the game by censoring the debate, plain and simple.
So I want to turn this over now to a guy who really does understand the impact of the Fairness Doctrine. He is the one member of Congress who is an owner of radio stations and understands the impact on the listeners: Greg Walden from Oregon.
REP. WALDEN: Thank you, Eric.
Well, thank you very much. I'm Greg Walden, and I represent the people of Oregon's 2nd District. My wife and I have owned and operated radio stations in rural Oregon for over 21 years. And I grew up in the business, and I understand how the Fairness Doctrine was and would be debilitating free speech. We all know free speech is the very foundation of our informed democracy.
So for the second day in a row, Mike Pence and my colleagues and I are here standing up for free speech in this House. Yesterday, as you know and you've heard, we helped achieve an enormous victory for an informed democracy by passing the Free Flow of Information Act, a federal shield law for reporters.
Today we launch an effort to protect free speech on the public's airwaves from being censored by regulators at the Federal Communications Commission. And make no mistake about it; there are powerful people in public office today whose lives are made uncomfortable by the discourse that occurs on talk radio and television. And some have suggested going back to the days of government regulation of the content on the airwaves by reimposing the Fairness Doctrine. There's nothing more -- this is nothing more than a veiled attempt to silence the critics of the powerful elite.
While we know this FCC has no intention of regulating political speech, as evidenced by the letter from Chairman Martin, there's nothing to stop a future FCC from writing a rule to do so. That's why we're taking this preemptive action to move the Broadcaster Freedom Act directly to the floor for a vote. We're using the petition process because it's obvious to us that those in power in the House today have a different view and would never let this issue come up for an up-or-down vote otherwise. After all, they were some of the few who voted against our amendment to the Financial Services appropriations bill earlier this year to provide a one-year prohibition on funding being used to re-regulate political speech on the public's airwaves.
Now, for those who say there's no threat to broadcasters at this time, then I say they should have no problem in helping us bring this measure to the floor for a vote. If they resist, then one has to ask why. Are they hoping to keep their option open for a different day with a different president and a different FCC?
The time to protect vigorous free political speech is now. Surely between naming post offices and condemning nations that are friendly to us, we can squeeze in another vote to protect free speech in America.
REP. : I have to follow that?
To have the federal government define and police fairness on the airwaves is the absolute antithesis of freedom. The last time I read our Constitution, I read the First Amendment, it guarantees us freedom of speech, not fairness of speech. Fairness -- fairness is guaranteed by having a multiplicity of media outlets throughout the nation. And now we have hundreds of cable and satellite stations in almost every home in America -- 1,700 television stations, 13,000 radio stations. It's the marketplace that guarantees fairness.
And despite the patent unfairness of the Fairness Doctrine, despite what I believe to be its unconstitutionality, senior Democrats are calling for its resurrection. They are willing to trample on our First Amendment rights in order to try to shut down conservative talk radio. And that's what this is all about.
And so I want to thank the sponsors of this act, Greg Walden and Mike Pence, and let them know that as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, House conservatives are totally united behind this effort to preserve and strengthen and save our First Amendment rights. And when over 300 members of the people's House vote in favor of freedom of speech, I think our -- the Democrat leadership has some explaining to do to the American people why this important piece of legislation has not already been brought to the floor. Thank you.
REP. : Any questions?
Q I'd raise this question to both you and Mr. Walden, since you both have dealt with your own radio stations -- (off mike). What is wrong with -- if you had a Fairness Doctrine and you had certain people who only had so much money, then only the people who have the money with the ability to purchase radio stations, purchase TV stations have access to the airwaves because of how much they have; that only those viewpoints or predomination of those viewpoints would be heard.
What's wrong with then to have some degree of equilibrium through the Fairness Doctrine if -- so that it comes down to an economic question: whoever has the money therefore has the speech?
REP. : Well, let me say that I think in 1929, when the Radio Act was adopted and in 1939, when the regulations that came to be known as the Fairness Doctrine were enacted, there may -- and my libertarian streak only permits me to say "may" -- have been some justification for the government ensuring some measure of fair and equal access to the public airwaves.
The reality, though, today, as others have said eloquently, with the explosion of a wide variety, almost innumerable sources of media for the American people -- satellite radio, cable television, the Internet, PDAs, just a broad range of sources of information -- it is absurd to think there could be any justification for focusing the power of the Federal Communications Commission just on broadcast radio and television with regard to content. The American people, as Mr. Blunt said, have a broad range of choices.
The second reason that it would be wrong is, we don't have to speculate what American talk radio would look like with the Fairness Doctrine. We have four decades of practice. And the truth is that during the years that the Fairness Doctrine sought to impose balance on controversial issues on the airwaves of America, it had the opposite effect. In fact, the regulations, the red tape, the threat to licenses resulted in most radio stations shying away from what has come to be known as American talk radio. So the record of history, the explosion of various sources of media make it -- there is no basis and no justification for government regulation of the airwaves in the 21st century.
REP. WALDEN: Yeah, let me just make a quick comment. The reason is, it wouldn't work. The Fairness Doctrine didn't work when it was in place. You didn't see the burgeoning talk radio -- and by the way, religious broadcasters are affected as well -- in America. You want to talk about an area where you could have censorship tomorrow and licenses at risk -- if you're a small market broadcast owner, the last thing you want to do is put your license in peril. And you don't know, when you have a controversial issue on the airwaves, which person that comes to you is the one to provide the opposite view. And if they didn't get on, and they don't like you, then they object to your relicensing. And that's why you didn't have talk radio, because nobody wanted to take that risk.
Q Is there any conflict between what you're saying now and what the FCC is doing in the areas of -- (off mike) -- fining stations or throwing out their -- people up there have said you can turn the dial -- (off mike) -- millions of dollars in fines can be levied from the FCC --
REP. : Right.
Q -- people are -- (off mike) -- for not airing movies like "Saving Private Ryan" -- (off mike). Isn't there some conflict --
REP. WALDEN: I don't think there is, because I think there's always been a difference drawn between obscenity and indecency and political speech or religious speech. Those things -- that's been regulated. And I -- that doesn't seem to be an issue, at least in the broadcast world that I come from. And in fact, I supported those added penalties.
Now, I disagree and disassociate myself with the Republican leaders that people should just turn off the radio. I personally have a problem with that. (Laughter.) But I would tell you that I think there is a difference.
But if you have a Christian radio station that's discussing Christian values, do you have to have an atheist on to rebut each of those discussions?
And who decides that? Well, it's decided in the end at your license renewal period by FCC employees who work down the street here not far away. And your entire investment may be on the line. Or you may get fined or you may get penalized some other way, or a short-term renewal or something. That's why you didn't see talk radio.
Now, there's talk on the left, talk on the right, talk in the middle. Some of it has an audience; some of it never generated an audience. As fate would have it, conservative talk radio seems to generate a bigger audience than liberal talk radio. In some markets it's the other way around.
REP. PENCE (?): We have a vote on. Maybe there's time for one more. Yes, sir.
Q Why don't you just handle this through a motion to recommit? You've been very successful doing that. There was a kind of related bill yesterday on the floor. Why don't you just take care of it that way?
REP. BLUNT: That's a good idea. We may have to -- we may have to do that.
Q/REP. : You can give him credit.
REP. BLUNT: Yeah. Where's Eric when I can't say Eric didn't think of that. You know, we may have to come to that. We'd like to have a real debate on this bill on the floor and make the good points that Mike Pence and Greg Walden particularly have made today, so that the American people really understand what's at risk here and why the Senate then needs to act.
You know, part of -- as I said to a group earlier today, part of the failure of this Congress is that the House has been constantly overreaching to the point that there's no driving of the Senate toward a conclusion. That's why nothing gets signed into law. We think this would benefit from a debate on the floor, but at some point we may have to do what Mike Pence did on the appropriations bill this year -- and we probably all spoke in favor of that amendment -- I know I did -- and add something somewhere. We'd rather have this as a clear debate so the American people understand what's at risk.
REP. : I want to associate myself strongly with what the whip said. There is the issue of the Fairness Doctrine itself. But if one looks at the recent Podesta report produced by the Center for American Progress, there's actually also a debate over a whole new range of regulation about radio ownership and content. And the reason why Greg Walden and I wrote an open rule that is the subject of the discharge petition is because we're very interested in exactly what the minority whip just said. We want a full and thoroughgoing debate on the House floor about broadcast freedom because I believe we will win that debate. I believe we will win the vote. And the more thorough debate we have today will give more voice to the American people's commitment to broadcast freedom.
REP. : Imagine that, an open rule. (Laughter.)
Q Just last question real quick on this, as Mr. Putnam addressed this. You guys talked about the Democrats and how they can play their hand and they feel like they're getting beaten up here. Would you all be on the same side of this issue if you felt it was actually going to be -- if the shoe was on the other foot in terms of how this would help Republicans?
REP. WALDEN (?): I'll tell you what, if the liberal ideas in the country that couldn't prevail in the commercial talk radio world were as pervasive as conservative ideas, probably none of us would be here. I think the country believes in the view of America that the government is not the answer to all problems. They hear that every day. That's a popular view.
What do you think, Adam?
REP. PUTNAM: I couldn't have said it any better. I mean, the bottom line is that, you know, America is philosophically a center- right nation, but it is a nation that believes in making its own decisions. And the idea that a government censor would be deciding what is available to them on the airwaves is abhorrent.
REP. PENCE: I'd like to maybe hit a parting thought on that if I could. I want to answer your question very directly and say in my heart of hearts I believe the answer to that is yes. Yesterday, I coauthored legislation to protect a reporter's right to keep sources confidential, and it was overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and Democrats. But frankly, in the beginning, you might imagine how many times some of my conservative Republican colleagues asked me what I was doing writing a bill that benefited reporters, given the fact of the perceived liberal bias by many in the national media. But it wasn't relevant to me because my commitment is to a free and independent press.
My hope is that yesterday's support by almost every Republican in the House for reporters as a part of the free and independent press will also be embraced in this discharge petition today, which recognizes that commentators, whatever their philosophical viewpoint, are a part of the free and independent press that is a bulwark of our freedom and our form of government.