Lawmaker Aims to Block Any Change to Talk Radio Rules

A Republican lawmaker wants to forestall any potential reversal of federal rules that allow talk radio to broadcast one side of an issue without an opposing viewpoint.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., announced Wednesday that he plans to introduce a bill Thursday that would prevent any future president or the Federal Communications Commission from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC regulation that aimed to ensure that controversial issues broadcast on the airwaves were balanced and fair with contrasting points of view. The rule was revoked in 1985.

“There’s nothing fair about the Fairness Doctrine,” said Pence, a former syndicated talk radio host.

“Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine would amount to nothing more than government control over political views expressed on the public awareness and it must not be allowed to occur,” Pence said on the House floor.

Pence's bill is meant as a pre-emptive strike against a growing backlash in Congress over the dominance of conservative hosts on talk radio. Some Democrats have expressed interest in reinstating the FCC requirement so as to force balance between conservative and liberal hosts on the airwaves.

The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said he believes Americans want to hear opposing viewpoints.

“It’s time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine,” Durbin said in a report in The Hill newspaper. “I have this old-fashioned attitude that when Americans hear both sides of the story, they’re in a better position to make a decision.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein told "FOX News Sunday" that she was reviewing the Fairness Doctrine because "talk radio is overwhelmingly one way."

"In my view, talk radio tends to be one-sided. It also tends to be dwelling in hyperbole. It's explosive. It pushes people to, I think, extreme views without a lot of information," said Feinstein, D-Calif.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., under attack last week after saying "talk radio was running America," disagreed.

"I don't think this Fairness Doctrine that would try to require that there be X amount on both sides is fair. So you know, it's caused quite a stir, but, you know, it goes with the territory," Lott said on the same program.

Last week, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma was accused of teetering on senility after he said he clearly remembers hearing Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Hillary Clinton of New York talking three years ago about the need for a "legislative fix" to curb conservative talk radio.

Boxer on Friday said the Oklahoma senator "needs new glasses or he needs to have his hearing checked" if he thinks he overheard her and Clinton having a conversation about talk radio.

Republicans say the marketplace is rightfully dictating what is broadcast on public airwaves. They add that forcing talk radio stations to schedule liberal programming would be a money loser since liberal talk radio doesn't attract the same interest as conservative programs like Rush Limbaugh's. Air America, a liberal network, filed for bankruptcy in October.

If Pence's bill passes, it would require Congress to amend the law before the FCC can act to require balanced programming.