The abandoned Fairness Doctrine has been gathering dust in the Federal Communications Commission’s broom closet for 20 years, but it could soon be swept completely away.
The doctrine, implemented by the agency in 1949, required broadcasters to discuss contrasting points of view on “controversial issues of public importance.” The policy was justified on grounds that the public owned the airwaves, and therefore, broadcasters were public trustees.
The doctrine was upheld in a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case, but shed by the FCC in the 1980s “on the basis that it believed the Fairness Doctrine to be an unconstitutional restraint on free speech under the First Amendment,” explains David M. Silverman, a lawyer specializing in broadcast issues at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in the District.
The FCC’s decision to no longer enforce the doctrine — a policy and not a federal law — was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1987. Importantly, the court did not rule on the constitutionality of the policy, but rather upheld the agency’s right to shelve it.
While there’s little chance the Fairness Doctrine will be revived under the current Republican-led FCC, conservatives say legislation is necessary to prevent a future Democrat-controlled agency from doing so.
Lawmakers in both houses on Friday introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act, which would bar the FCC from reinstituting the policy.
But, Mr. Silverman points out, the bills would not prevent Congress itself from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine.
“Even if Congress does reinstate the doctrine, however, the courts may have the last word in ultimately determining its constitutionality,” notes Mr. Silverman, a contributor to broadcastlawblog.com.
New ‘Book TV’ site
Washington-based public-affairs network C-SPAN unveiled a new Web site this week devoted to its “Book TV” programming, which airs weekends on C-SPAN2.
The site, booktv.org, features more archived video, including segments from interview shows “After Words” and “In Depth,” as well as author events at bookstores, libraries and festivals. It also provides additional search capabilities, detailed schedule information and an “improved look and feel.”
“Book TV” focuses on nonfiction with an emphasis on biographies of key political and historical figures, as well as current events and politics.
Middle East on Cox
Cox Communications, which provides cable-TV service to Fairfax County and Fredericksburg, will begin carrying the Middle Eastern Broadcasting Network of America on Aug. 1. The network is a 24-hour channel, based in the U.S., that airs movies, soap operas, documentaries, concerts, news, sports and other content. Cox is adding MBN to its international programming tier for Cox Digital Cable customers.
“World Radio” WMET-AM (1160) now airs the Spanish-language Futbol de Primera daily show weeknights from 6 to 7 p.m. The station, Washington’s only paid-programming radio outlet, may also broadcast Mexican league matches and the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying games in the future.
Thought of the day
Doesn’t it seem like there’s a shortage of Huey Lewis and the News on D.C. radio? Just asking.
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