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Press Conference On The Fairness Doctrine With Senate And House Republicans

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. DEMINT: (In progress.) We've got a very important issue we want to talk about. Freedom of speech is under attack in this country. And there's no place that it's more visible and easier to see than this idea of the Fairness Doctrine, which several Democrat leaders have already mentioned -- excuse my voice -- that they think should be brought back, that limit the free speech of broadcasters in this country.

Yesterday, Congressmen and Senators took their oath of office, which is to defend and protect the Constitution. The Fairness Doctrine is at complete odds with that, wiping away First Amendment rights for people to speak out.

One of the most important freedoms we have, in this country today, is for the media to be able to express their opinions about political and other issues. The Fairness Doctrine --

Greg, come in. Thanks for being here.

The Fairness Doctrine would take that away. We want to serve notice, with the Broadcaster Freedom Act, that we as Republicans are drawing a line in the sand. And I hope this won't be just Republicans. We're looking for Democrat co-sponsors.

We are not going to allow this rule to be reenacted either by the FCC, by the Obama administration or by Congress. One of the most important freedoms we have is for people to know the truth about what we're doing here. And people learn more about what we're doing from talk radio probably than anything else in the country today.

We have 24 co-sponsors just after a couple of days of working it here in the Senate. I know Congressman Pence will talk about what they're doing in the House. But as for me on the Senate side, I am just committing today to use every rule, every tactic that we have, at our disposal, to keep the Fairness Doctrine from moving in Congress or to overrule it if it is implemented by the FCC.

I'll introduce Mike Pence. Mike, you cover for my rough voice, if you would.

REP. PENCE: I will. I will. Thank you, Senator.

And thank you, Senator Inhofe, and my colleague Greg Walden, for being here today.

The American people cherish freedom. That's why President Reagan repealed the so-called Fairness Doctrine back in 1987. It actually, for four decades in America, regulated the content of broadcast radio in this country.

Now, bringing back the Fairness Doctrine today -- as some of the most powerful Democrats in the House and Senate have advocated that we do -- bringing back the Fairness Doctrine today would amount to government control over political views expressed on the public airwaves.

I believe it is dangerous to suggest that government should be in the business of rationing free speech. But that is precisely the function of the Fairness Doctrine, and it was the function of the Fairness Doctrine during its 40-year reign.

During my years as a professional in radio and television, I developed a great respect for free and independent press. And since being in Congress, I've been the recipient of praise and, on occasion, harsh criticism by many in the electronic media and even some in talk radio. But it hasn't changed my fundamental belief in the importance of a free and independent press and that precisely that oath that, Senator DeMint said, we took yesterday demands of each of us, in this institution, its vigorous defense.

Now, I mentioned that some of the most powerful elected officials in the Democratic Party have actually openly advocated bringing back the so-called Fairness Doctrine; among them, Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator John Kerry. And last summer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the Christian Science Monitor that passing the bill that we are reintroducing today, the Broadcaster Freedom Act, was, quote, "not in the" -- excuse me. She said it would not receive a vote on the floor because, quote, "The interest of my caucus is the reverse," close quote.

I said on the floor, the following day, and I say with respect today, defending freedom is the paramount interest of every member of the American Congress. So the Republicans you see here, gathered today, our co-sponsors in the House and the Senate, are taking action. We're reintroducing, in this Congress, the Broadcaster Freedom Act. It would take the power away, from this administration and the incoming administration and any future president, to restore the Fairness Doctrine without an act of Congress.

But let me emphasize another point Senator DeMint made, and that is that opposition to the Fairness Doctrine is truly bipartisan. I can speak with authority about the House of Representatives. In 2007, I introduced an amendment that would ban reimplementation of the Fairness Doctrine for simply one year. And we're prepared to do so again. At that time, over 300 Republicans and Democrats voted to ban the reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine for that fiscal year.

I truly believe if the Broadcaster Freedom Act is brought to the floor, of the House of Representatives, that it would pass. It would pass because of that previous vote, the evidence that we've seen. But I also believe it would pass, because whenever freedom gets an up-or- down vote, on the floor of the people's House, freedom always wins.

Now, John F. Kennedy said, "We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values, for a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth or falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people." America is a nation of freedom and strong opinion. Our government must not be afraid to entrust the American people with all the facts and opinions necessary to make choices as an informed electorate. That's precisely what this experiment in democracy is all about.

It's time to send the Fairness Doctrine to the ash-heap of broadcast history where it belongs. Broadcaster freedom act that we introduced today with our colleagues in the Senate and the House will do just that.

And I also want to renew the call for our Democratic colleagues to join us; to take a bipartisan stand for freedom; to oppose the Democrat leadership's plan to censor the airwaves of American talk radio and American Christian radio; bring the broadcaster freedom act to the floor with all deliberate speed; and do our part in this Congress to preserve a free and independent press on the airwaves of America.

With that, I am pleased to introduce my original co-sponsor and partner, Greg Walden of Oregon.

REP. WALDEN: Thank you, Mike, senators.

Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I'm Greg Walden. I represent the people of Oregon's Second District and for more than 21 years I, with my wife, owned and operated radio stations, including ones that had talk radio content. And I have a degree in journalism.

If Gutenberg had invented the radio rather than the modern-day press, this wouldn't be an issue, because broadcasters would have had First Amendment rights to begin with. What I saw over the years in broadcasting is that before the Reagan administration repealed the Fairness Doctrine, there was no talk radio of meaningful consequence for political debate. What has flourished since 1985 is an explosion of talk radio -- some on the right -- a lot on the right, some on the left and an increase in religious broadcasting as well.

The Fairness Doctrine was put in place in 1949 when there were 2,881 radio stations. Today there are more than 14,000. The argument for it then was to encourage political discourse on the public airwaves and it had just the opposite effect. There have been multiple court decisions since its -- since it was put in place that have continued to show that it actually has the opposite effect than what was intended, and that it is -- it was shutting down political discourse. I think the evidence is clear: Once it was repealed, talk radio flourished.

So there are people on the far left and people on the far right and a lot of people in the middle who say, a couple of miles from here, we don't need bureaucrats at the Federal Communications Commission deciding whether the right views were put on your station or not. There is evidence, in the past, of administrations of both parties that used the Fairness Doctrine to go after people they opposed by threatening their licenses when those licenses were up for renewal.

And that's the core of the issue here, is that the threat is that government bureaucrats will decide whether a broadcast station owner gets his license or her license again, or is somehow punished for not having exactly the right other view on the airwaves. Nobody with that capital investment would take that risk that they're going to lose it all, lose their license because maybe they didn't have the right person in place.

So if you are for free speech -- and we should be in this country -- then you should be against reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine or some other version of it. And that's why we're here today, to once again renew our efforts to put in place the Broadcaster Freedom Act.

Thank you.

SEN. DEMINT: Senator.

SEN. INHOFE: Yeah, I'm Jim Inhofe. Let me approach this from a little different perspective.

I think what we're talking about, some of it is, here, it's market-driven. I can remember an experience that upset a lot of people that I shared with you a few years ago, and that was with Senator Boxer and Senator Clinton, both of them upset with the fact that there's so much far-right content on talk radio, and they said there ought to be a legislative fix to that. And I said to -- you know, you missed the whole point: it's market-driven and there's no market for your stuff. And so consequently that's where it started.

This effort to get this done was formalized a year and a half ago, when John Podesta, who now has a different job, came out with this document. It was the structural imbalance for political talk radio, and it's pretty scathing if you stop and look at it. On page 11, it says if you don't do -- talking about station owners -- if you don't do as we tell you to do in terms of addressing the content, quote, "If commercial radio broadcasters are unwilling to abide by these regulatory standards, a spectrum fee should be levied on owners to directly support local, regional and national public broadcasting." Now, that's enough to put the fear of God into anyone who's out there in this business.

And I look at this really as intimidation, not as -- what is going to happen, people are going to start being afraid of what kind of content is out there. So this document pretty well formalizes the fact that a year and a half ago they said this is something we're going to try to do, and we now have a Democrat administration coming in. So I think it's very important right now, and I agree with my colleagues as to how critical this issue is.

SEN. DEMINT: Questions? Yes.

Q During the campaign last year, President-elect Obama's campaign did say that they weren't really interested in restoring the Fairness Doctrine. And then I actually spoke to Majority Leader Hoyer today. He said it was something that wasn't even being contemplated on their side of the aisle. And even Mr. Boehner indicated that he thought that even if Democrats made big gains in the House this year -- which, obviously, they did -- he didn't think it would be restored. Is this something that is -- do you expect there to be movement in the -- during the time of the 111th Congress on the Fairness Doctrine?

SEN. DEMINT: What we intend to do is to cut that off. If they know the opposition is there, our bill is in place, our cosponsors in the House and the Senate are there, we can make sure that doesn't happen. But there are a lot of promises made during campaigns, as you know, that are not kept, and a lot of changes are already in place.

We want to make sure that the American people are aware that this threat is there. And by introducing this bill and getting cosponsors -- hopefully Republican and Democrats -- we can keep the FCC, the Obama administration, or members of Congress from even thinking about bringing this up.

Any other comments?

REP. PENCE: I'd be happy to address that.

Let me say I want to -- I want to take President-elect Obama at his word, and during the campaign through a spokesman said that he did not support restoring the Fairness Doctrine.

That's why I didn't reference him in my remarks today.

The reality though is that the speaker of the United States House of Representatives has indicated that the interest of her caucus was in the reverse of banning the Fairness Doctrine by passing the Broadcaster Freedom Act.

We also know that some of the most prominent members of the United States Senate, in the Democratic Party, have come out in favor of this legislation. And I believe that's the reason why the senators who are gathered here and Mr. Walden and myself and, I believe, every Republican in the House, before the week is out, will co-sponsor an effort to simply remove the possibility of the return of the so-called Fairness Doctrine.

We believe that while it would be possible to see legislation moved, in this regard, and there are leading Democrats that control majorities, in the House and the Senate, that have expressed an open interest in doing that, we also want to take the power away from a future administration to do this by the promulgation of regulation. And that also reflects the purpose of this effort.

We simply believe this is a question of freedom. And with the broad bipartisan support that we saw in 2007 -- I believe more than 100 Democrats voted with Republicans to ban the reimposition of the so-called Fairness Doctrine -- we believe the votes are there. The will of the American people is there to send the Fairness Doctrine to the ash heap of broadcast history. And therefore we think it's incumbent on the Congress to do it.

REP. WALDEN: Let me, if I might, weigh in with one other point.

I think you'll find also, on the record, a statement from Commissioner Copps that they probably wouldn't reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine as it was conceived of in 1949. But they would probably move to do something, through the terms of localism, in providing other balance.

I think our effort and the public effort we've engaged in has scared off a lot of the leadership from actually taking the old Fairness Doctrine and putting it back in place. I think they're smarter than that.

They're going to try an end-around to accomplish the same goal. And that's what we have to guard against.

I think we've really awakened a lot of people around the country to what is coming and could come.

But I don't think you'll see it in the name of the Fairness Doctrine; I think you're going to see it under other terms and other names, because they're not stupid. These are very bright people. But their goal hasn't changed, and that is they want to shut down talk radio.

Q (Off mike) -- describe in more detail what you mean by localism?

REP. WALDEN: Well, I think it's going to be that -- sort of be up to them as to what -- how they define it, but what they're going to say is they want diversity of viewpoint on the airwaves.

Well, it gets back to the heart of the Fairness Doctrine, which is -- to prescribe that through regulation means there has to be an enforcement mechanism. To have an enforcement mechanism means somebody has to be the gatekeeper of information and the penalizer, and that would go back to the Federal Communications Commission, that would say: You're not doing enough on localism. You're not having enough different viewpoints on your airwaves. So therefore, either here's your fine and penalty or we're going to restrict your license renewal or we won't renew it at all.

And so that's what you're going to see coming. Can you imagine, for those of you in the print press, of having a federal agency say, you know, you don't have enough different opinions on your opinion page. In fact, some of the reporting that you've done isn't quite balanced enough. So you got a government agency that says we may take away your postal rate or we may do this or that on your subscription or something else. This is what broadcasters face.

Q But when you say "localism" you mean an insistence that they carry a certain amount of local programming?

REP. WALDEN: I don't see that in that context, in terms of amount of local programming. It is that the government would dictate what the content of that programming looks like. It's not about covering the local city council meeting, it is --

REP. : (Off mike.)

REP. WALDEN: Yeah, but they're going to use the rubric, as my colleague says, of localism to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine. I think that's what you're going to see.

Q There doesn't seem to be a serious effort by the Democrats right now to -- (off mike) -- it's actually moving. Frankly, is this about manufacturing a controversy to try to mobilize the base?

REP. WALDEN: No, I don't think so at all, because there are plenty of documented statements by members of the commission and politicians said they'd like to get this done. I mean, you've got the head of Air America doing an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, concerned about the reinstitution of the Fairness Doctrine. I think this is a very real issue that's out there.

I think what we have done is succeed in partially heading it off and diverting it.

SEN. INHOFE: Yeah, let me just comment. You know, if you wait until the train's already gone, it will be too late. We know they want to do it. It's in this document.

Now, my colleagues from the House said something very interesting. They said, you know, if we can get this up for a vote where everyone -- you know, God and everyone's watching them, this thing -- they would be on our side. The American people would clearly be on our side of this thing.

And if you want any evidence of that, you might remember in the United States Senate Tom Harkin, about two years ago, tried to regulate the content that was going overseas to our troops that were serving over there. And we took him on on the floor, and we ended up saying, no, we want to have -- they deserve to have what they want, not what we in our infinite wisdom are prescribing for them. And we won. We wouldn't have won that behind closed doors.

REP. PENCE: I really want to say that I understand that the -- you know, the largest natural resource in Washington, D.C., is cynicism. But I prefer to take men and women in public life at their word. The speaker of the House has expressed her support for the Fairness Doctrine. Senator Dianne Feinstein; John Kerry; Senator Dick Durbin, a leader here in the Senate, (in widened ?) majorities for their party have expressed their support for this. But we believe the American people are on our side, and interestingly, we believe majorities of Republicans and many Democrats are on our side.

And so we simply want to remove the possibility of the Fairness Doctrine coming back, but also move the public debate and awareness that if there is an effort, as has been referred to occasionally, to bring the Fairness Doctrine by stealth, that we will have laid a foundation of understanding about the impact on a free and independent press that regulation, either the old style or a new style, would have.

SEN. DEMINT: We need to close. I'll make one last statement, but if you've got some additional questions, just hit us before we leave.

But the bigger issue is free speech. And you can see all around attacks on free speech. If you look at what the Democrats have tried to do with net neutrality, they're starting to say this is a public entity, everyone has to be treated equally, and the next step for that is starting to regulate what is said on that.

You see traditional ideas and moral convictions being called hate speech. Everywhere we see them inching in on the free speech. The Fairness Doctrine is probably the most visible and understandable, and that's why we need to draw the line in the sand and help Americans see that their free speech is under attack. And if you regulate what people say on the airwaves, you can regulate anything. So it's real important.

So it's real important.

Thank you all for coming. Any additional questions, we'll be hanging around for a second. But thanks a lot.

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