PRESS CONFERENCE WITH SENATOR JIM DEMINT (R-SC) AND REP. GREG WALDEN (R-OR)
SUBJECT: THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE
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SEN. DEMINT: Good afternoon. We can celebrate a victory of sorts today: after taking a message to the American people about radio censorship, of potential of muzzling radio talk show hosts all across the country, we were able to force a vote this week on the Broadcasters Freedom Act that would bar the FCC from bringing up what is misnamed the Fairness Doctrine. Right now the vote is going on on the floor, but because of the pressure from the American people, both parties are supporting the prohibition against this censorship of free speech and freedom of the press.
We did have one setback in the fact that the Democrat majority offered an alternative. So while my bill closes the front door to the Fairness Doctrine, the Democrat majority has opened the back door for additional mischief by allowing the FCC -- and actually telling the FCC -- that they shall promote and encourage diversity in communication media, which is one of those vague terms which allows lawsuits, liability for not just radio stations; the language would include any communication media.
So it's two steps forward and maybe one step back, but a great victory for the American people today in a testament to what many outlets like Fox, radio talk shows, bloggers have done to get that message to the American people.
And one of the great champions of freedom of the press, a former radio operator himself, Congressman Greg Walden.
REP. WALDEN: Thank you, Senator.
I'm Greg Walden. I represent the people of Oregon's 2nd District. And for more than 21 years my wife and I owned and operated radio stations.
I commend Senator DeMint for his great leadership on this effort in the United States Senate. It's kind of mixed-message week, though, for the Congress itself.
Congressman Pence and I had a provision in the spending bill that would have precluded the FCC from spending any money to put the Fairness Doctrine back in place. When the omnibus passed yesterday in the House, that language had been stripped out. So I call on the House leadership to now not strip out this language that's in the Senate bill, not DeMint amendment, because we don't need the folks down at 445 12th Street Southwest, the Federal Communications Commission, becoming the nanny police for freedom of speech in America.
Now, I'm a second generation broadcaster from Oregon, and I remember when the Fairness Doctrine was in place, and you didn't have vigorous debate of public-policy issues. And when we have a Justice Department that says it's okay to combine Sirius and XM into one because the marketplace has changed -- and I don't understand why Senator Durbin's amendment is necessary and calls on splitting up ownership or doing something on the ownership side.
And I think what's happened here is pretty clear. I think we have raised such a ruckus over the threat of Fairness Doctrine coming back that they've now shut that door, as the senator said, and now they're going to come at it from the back door and through media ownership and other standards that the FCC will promulgate through regulation. So I don't think the fight's over, but today's a good victory on its face to stop the Fairness Doctrine from coming back. Now it's up to the House.
SEN. DEMINT: Thank you, Congressman.
Q Yeah. Todd Shields with Bloomberg.
Forgive me. Did your -- did your amendment succeed or fail, Senator DeMint?
SEN. DEMINT: It is succeeding as we speak. I just went down and checked the vote, and a number of the Democrats have parted company with some of their censors, and it looks like we'll succeed rather handily. I'm not sure what that final vote is going to be at this point.
Q And if the Durbin amendment also passes, what are --
SEN. DEMINT: It has passed.
Q It has passed.
SEN. DEMINT: Yes.
Q So where does that come to? So where does that leave us, with them coming in through the back door, as you say?
SEN. DEMINT: As the congressman said, they are -- they're going to try to do this through the back door, this censorship, through what they call diversity of ownership. Now, what diversity of ownership means no one has determined. A few years ago it might have meant diversity of gender or diversity of race, but now it could mean diversity of sexual preference, diversity of opinions, diversity of political party.
There are 14,000 radio stations across the country. And to turn this government loose on them, to make a decision at the government level of whether or not their ownership reflects the kind of diversity that we determine they should have, is un-American on its face.
So this is something we need to fight. But it's more the philosophy of the majority right now that our freedoms should be centrally managed, and that we should decide what people hear instead of the viewers and listeners.
REP. WALDEN: Can I just add one thing to that? And that is this, that in the language of the Durbin amendment, it talks about "diversity in communication media ownership." We don't believe that term is defined. They don't say "broadcast licensees." And so is this applied to the Internet now? Does this apply to bloggers? Does this apply -- who does this apply to? And what does it mean? And how is our FCC going to interpret this new statutory language should it go into law?
And I think those are issues that this -- you know, kind of why you like to have hearings and get input. This amendment just says that it shall promote diversity in communication media ownership.
Q Is that not in the 1934 Communications Act, diversity (in localism ?)? Are you saying the '34 Communications Act is wrong?
REP. WALDEN: Well, I think in the -- I'm not a great student of the '34 Communications Act, but there's always been a public-interest obligation.
You have to do quarterly issues reports and put them in your public file. You know, if you're going to serve your community, you go out and ascertain what's going on. But the real difference -- and there are caps now on ownership. You can only -- I can only own so many radio stations in my markets or so many TV stations. There are ownership caps today.
SEN. DEMINT: There -- there have been caps on ownership, but as far as I know there has never been anything in law with language like this that would give us as a government the right to determine if that -- the ownership of a particular station reflected the diversity that we preferred. It is that kind of vague language that sets the ACLU and the whole system against a private small business that cannot possibly meet some arbitrary federal standard.
Q Congressman, how will this play out on the House side?
REP. WALDEN: Well, we're yet to know, and that's why we'll have to see. When we've had a straight up-and-down vote, as we did on the appropriations bill a year or so ago, to preclude the FCC from spending money to put the Fairness Doctrine back in place, we had over 300 members vote for it. When we attempted to bring the Broadcaster Freedom Act out for a straight up-and-down vote, the speaker and leadership have refused to allow it. And in fact, we even tried a discharge petition, which also, of course, broke out along party lines, as they tend to do, but we couldn't break through to get to 218 there.
So we'll see. I think this will be a huge test about freedom of speech, and it will occur in the House when this measure comes up for a vote.
SEN. DEMINT: The irony of all this is, if you hear the debate on the floor, the senators will say something that's in it that's not and something it does that it doesn't do. It's just a page that's pretty clear. We've gotten strong legal opinions on what this amendment does.
But this afternoon, all across the country, not only on the news shows that are here today, but all the radio talk shows can look at what we actually voted on and explain it to the American people, and they can be more informed. And that's what senators and congressmen here today don't want: for people to know the truth about what we're doing.
Q Senator DeMint, I'm -- (name and affiliation inaudible) -- News -- I'm still trying to kind of grasp -- (inaudible). On one side you're saying that this is -- you're succeeding, even though the Durbin amendment just passed. How are you -- how are you saying you're succeeding if the Durbin amendment is kind of backdoor way in going about what you're trying to prevent?
SEN. DEMINT: Well, we offered this amendment, the Broadcasters Freedom Act -- the congressman and many others on the House side, the Senate side have been working on. It has been talked about in the media for a while, and -- to the point that the public knows exactly what it is. And it was almost impossible for even the Democrats to vote against.
But in order to confuse the issue, they offered what's called a side-by-side issue that takes arbitrary, confusing, vague language like "diversity in communications media ownership," and injects that into the debate, and they pass that at the same time. So we don't know what kind of damage this can do, but we need to do is bring confusing vague language like "diversity in communications media ownership" and injects that into the debate, and they pass that at the same time.
So we don't know what kind of damage this can do, but we what we need to do is bring the attention of the public to what's been done today. We did have a success in banning the return of the Fairness Doctrine, but we also have some problematic language that could accomplish the same thing through the courts and through arbitrary FCC action.
So our intent is to work this in conference with the House and to bring pressure from the public and to see if we can get it stripped out before it ends up in law.
REP. WALDEN: Thank you.
SEN. DEMINT: Thanks, Greg.
REP. WALDEN: Well done. Congratulations.