Essay: The Durbin Amendment – The New ‘Fairness’ Doctrine with a Kicker

Law may allow preemptive, premature rescission of broadcast licenses

NewsBusters.org | Media Research Center
By Any Other Name Still Stings

Yesterday by a whopping 87-11 vote, the Senate added as a rider to the passed DC voting rights bill the Broadcaster Freedom Act (BFA).  The BFA, if also passed by the House and signed by the President, would kill once and for all the Censorship Doctrine -- also mis-known as the "Fairness" Doctrine. 

Much Conservative celebration ensued.  However, the revelry is misplaced and premature.  It means only that the Left means to destroy Conservative and Christian talk radio by other means.

Because another rider was added via a party-line 57-41 vote.  Written by Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, S.160's Purpose is "To encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership, and to ensure that the public airwaves are used in the public interest."

Hello, new "Fairness" Doctrine - the regulatory enforcement of "diversity" of radio station ownership, and localism as defined by the "public interest."  Liberal censors are now travelling alternative routes to reach their original destination - silencing political speech on the airwaves.
This is an alternative assault on the radio industry to affect the Left’s desired ideological outcome. 

One tremendous problem with this amendment, with the Censorship Doctrine itself and in fact with virtually every aspect of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s broadcast licensing requirements is that they are all completely nebulous.  President Barack Obama's FCC can interpret these regulations in any direction it wishes, which more than likely bodes poorly for free speech on the radio.

And the worst part of the Durbin Amendment is the possibility that Obama's FCC may now be empowered to prematurely pull the broadcast licenses of radio stations they deem as failing to meet these new "Fairness" Doctrine-esque guidelines.  Several lawyers who do this for a living see this rider's wording as amorphous enough to allow for this interpretation.  

This would be absolutely devastating to talk radio.  Stations currently carrying Conservative and Christian talk would be perpetually under the FCC gun - never knowing when the regulatory hammer would fall and crush their businesses.  They would feel tremendous pressure to change formats so as to be able to stay on the air. 

And no one would be able to justify the enormous expense of getting into talk radio if their lifeline - their broadcast license - could be pulled capriciously at any time.

These licenses would then be awarded to more "diverse" owners who show a greater desire in meeting the Obama FCC's definition of the "local" and "public interest."  You know, ACORN activists and MoveOn.org hosts who couldn't cut the mustard on National Public or Pacifica Radio.

This is an alternative assault on the radio industry to affect the Left's desired ideological outcome.  By making it untenable for stations to conduct the business of talk radio, the liberal censors will succeed in again silencing political speech on the airwaves - just as if the "Fairness" Doctrine itself were reinstated.  Thus is the new "Fairness" Doctrine born. 

In the real world, the public interest is best served by what the public is interested in.  Conservative and Christian talk radio survives and thrives because people listen, and Liberal talk fails because they don't. 

But none of this matters in this brave new "diverse" world.  Liberals never liked the free market with it's equality of opportunity.  They have always preferred an equality of outcome - where shows that have listeners are forced to share the airwaves with those that don't. 

The Durbin Amendment solves the Left's "Fairness" Doctrine dilemma.  It gets them what they want - radio free of Conservative and Christian talk - without the political baggage of carrying the "Fairness" Doctrine name. 

For them, a rose by any other name still smells as sweet if it serves to silence the opposition.           

Seton Motley
Seton Motley
Founder and president of Less Government.