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Despite Signs of Revival, Critics Call 'Fairness Doctrine' Outdated Swipe at Modern Market

Conservative talk dominates radio. But it doesn't monopolize it. 

And as a handful of Democrats promote the return of the so-called Fairness Doctrine, liberals and conservatives alike are dismissing the effort, saying the policy is outdated and wouldn't change the fact that the audience is responsible for the success of hosts like Rush Limbaugh

The Fairness Doctrine is a policy created decades ago but abolished in the late 1980s that required broadcasters to provide opposing views on controversial issues. 

Democrats like Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow kicked up debate in recent weeks by calling for a return to those standards. New York Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey said Friday he wants the doctrine back, though a spokesman told FOXNews.com on Thursday that the congressman would not include language for that in a bill he's reintroducing to impose broadcast ownership limits. 

But foes have minced no words in expressing their contempt for the media control policy. 

"The Fairness Doctrine is an absurd concept," said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, an industry publication. "It's based upon a 1930s mentality that the entire nation is getting all its information from ... radio and television." 

The policy was adopted in 1949, at a time when media outlets were limited, and eventually repealed toward the end of the Reagan administration. 

Harrison said the rules, because they were drafted 60 years ago, do not reflect the modern media climate of Internet and cable. He said conservative dominance in radio is more than offset by liberal dominance everywhere else. 

Plus, he said, audience interest drives the market for conservative talk. 

"There's an active audience in America ... that loves conservative talk radio," he said. "It's not like (liberal hosts) don't have a chance at success." 

Liberal and moderate hosts do have a platform with broadcasters like Air America Media and National Public Radio. Satellite radio offers talk programming from the left and the right. 

But the partisan imbalance on FM and AM radio is apparent. The Center for American Progress issued an in-depth study in 2007 that found 91 percent of programming on the 257 news/talk stations under the top five commercial station owners was conservative. Only 9 percent was deemed progressive. 

The study from the liberal think tank did not conclude that the absence of a Fairness Doctrine was to blame. It said consumer demand and the doctrine's repeal were actually minor factors. and concluded that the imbalance was due to "multiple structural problems" in the U.S. regulatory system. CAP, which is run by former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta, suggested consolidation allowed powerful owners to influence content. 

The study urged caps on radio station ownership and greater local accountability over licensing, but not a new Fairness Doctrine. 

The Federal Communications Commission has since been looking at ways to give local communities more input in the broadcast stations that serve them. 

Steve Rendall, a Fairness Doctrine supporter and senior analyst with progressive media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, said liberals and conservatives both overstate the impact the doctrine would have on media content. 

He said most talk shows, even those on the right, already comply with the requirements, which he said do not call for absolute balance on the airwaves. 

"It's not the bogeyman that conservatives think it is and it's not the panacea that many liberals see it as," he said. 

Since broadcast licenses are limited and give owners reign over public airwaves, Rendall said the doctrine would remind broadcasters of their obligation to the public and encourage more balance on air. According to the FCC, the U.S. has close to 16,000 licensed radio and TV stations. 

But critics say the Fairness Doctrine would not open up dialogue in the way it was intended. The conservative Media Research Center, and other organizations, contend that when the policy was in effect it only stifled debate on serious political issues because broadcasters were afraid of bureaucrats influencing content. 

President Obama is against reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, according to White House spokesman Ben LaBolt. That was the position Obama's campaign expressed last summer, but some unclear statements from advisers in recent weeks seemed to leave open the door on the president's position. 

"As the president stated during the campaign, he does not believe the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated," LaBolt told FOXNews.com Wednesday. 

FCC spokesman David Fiske also told FOXNews.com that FCC staff are not discussing any form of Fairness Doctrine revival. He disputed an article earlier this week in The American Spectator claiming FCC staffers met with aides to U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to discuss how to enact those policies and even extend them to the Internet. 

"Those meetings did not happen," Fiske said. 

Several Republican lawmakers, apparently fearing a revival of the doctrine, have introduced bills to prohibit any such reinstatement. A bill by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., has already earned 177 co-sponsors. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., says he'll try to force a vote on his version of the measure in the Senate. He's trying to include it as an amendment to an unrelated bill, but it's unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will allow it to be considered. 

Harrison said the so-called Fairness Doctrine makes for great fodder on air, but has little traction politically. 

"I don't think the Fairness Doctrine is a valid issue, nor do I think it has a chance for passing," he said. 

FOXNews.com's Judson Berger contributed to this report.