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The Fairness Doctrine

From the Winter 2009 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 14. Until it was abolished in 1987,…

From the Winter 2009 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 14.

Until it was abolished in 1987, the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to provide equal airtime for all sides of a political issue. It fell out of favor after the FCC determined it disserved the public interest and could cause a chilling effect on coverage of controversial issues.

Possible action: In a radio interview on Feb. 5, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) talked about “bringing accountability to the airwaves,” but a spokesman later stated that Stabenow was not calling for Fairness Doctrine Senate hearings. A week later on the same radio show, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) lauded host Bill Press’s Feb. 6 Washington Post editorial about the doctrine and says, “We need the Fairness Doctrine back.”

A spokesman for Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who in 2007 said it was “time to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine,” said that Durbin “has no plans to introduce any legislation on the issue, nor is it even on the radar.” And an Obama spokesman last year had dismissed talk of reviving the doctrine as a “distraction” and said the candidate did not support it.