Yes, It Still Exists: House Members Call on FCC to Formally End 'Fairness Doctrine'

June 1st, 2011 11:55 AM

Many believe that the Fairness Doctrine was repealed in the 1980s. In fact, it remains on the books, as Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell recently noted. President Ronald Reagan's FCC - and each one since - opted to not enforce the law for constitutional reasons, but the law itself still exists.

Two House Republicans have sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski asking him to officially remove the law - and a few related measures - from the Code of Federal Regulations.

Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Greg Walden, who chairs the panel's Communications and Technology Subcommittee, have given Genachowski until Friday to confirm that the regulations will be removed. Will the FCC Chairman, who has a record of liberal views on contentious communications issues, comply?

As the letter notes, both Genachowski and President Obama have expressed their opposition to the Doctrine and other federal regulations on broadcast outlets' political content - specifically, a pair of regulations that would require broadcasters to pay for responses to on-air personal attacks and political ads.

Further, Upton and Walden note, Genachowski has signaled his intention to remove all unnecessary regulations from the FCC's rolls, pursuant to the spirit of an Obama executive order aimed at trimming the federal government's excessive bureaucracy. The Fairness Doctrine and its corollaries "would seem like an easy place to start." the letter states, "since the FCC has already abandoned them based on principles you say you continue to support."

Here is the relevant excerpt of the letter (pdf of the full document here):

Despite the FCC's determination not to enforce the Fairness Doctrine, Commissioner McDowell recently discovered that it still remains in the Code of Federal Regulations. Further research has revealed that the political-editorial and personal-attack rules also remain intact despite the FCC's decision to repeal them. The media marketplace is more diverse and competitive today than it was ten years ago when the DC Circuit struck down the Commission's political-editorial and personal-attack rules. The difference is even more stark when compared to the market twenty years ago when the Commission concluded that the Fairness Doctrine was unconstitutional.

You wrote the Chairman Walden on July 24, 2009, that you "do not support reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine," that you "believe strongly in the First Amendment," and that you "do not think that the FCC should be involved in the censorship of content based on political speech or opinion." We agree that the Constitution places a special duty on Congress and the federal government to respect the freedom of broadcasters and cable operators to speak freely without fear of reprisal of government sanction.

President Obama's recent Executive Order has asked agencies to remove unwarranted regulations from their rolls… Although that order does not apply to the FCC, you stated at our May 13, 2011 Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing that you have instructed Commission staff to follow its direction… The Fairness Doctrine, political-editorial, and personal-attack rules would seem like an easy place to start since the FCC has already abandoned them based on principles you say you continue to support.

Accordingly, we ask you to remove the Fairness Doctrine and the political-editorial and personal-attack rules from the Code of Federal Regulations as soon as possible. Please confirm in writing no later than the close of business June 3, 2011, that you will do so and include an estimate of how long it will take.