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Senator Thune’s Floor Speech on Amendment 662

   Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to call up amendment No. 662, and make it pending.

   The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, the pending amendment is set aside. The clerk will report.

   The legislative clerk read as follows:

   The Senator from South Dakota [Mr. Thune], for himself, Mr. DeMint, Mr. Inhofe, and Mr. Enzi, proposes an amendment numbered 662.

   The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To prohibit the use of funds by the Federal Communications Commission to repromulgate the Fairness Doctrine)

    On page 410, after line 2, insert the following:

    Sec. 753. None of the funds appropriated in this Act may be used by the Federal Communications Commission to prescribe any rule, regulation, policy, doctrine, standard, guideline, or other requirement that has the purpose or effect of reinstating or repromulgating (in whole or in part) the requirement that broadcasters present or ascertain opposing viewpoints on issues of public importance, commonly referred to as the ``Fairness Doctrine'', as such doctrine was repealed in In re Complaint of Syracuse Peace Council against Television Station WTVH, Syracuse New York, 2 FCC Rcd. 5043 (1987).

   Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, 2 weeks ago, 87 Members of the Senate voted to uphold our first amendment rights by supporting a statutory prohibition on the so-called fairness doctrine. The amendment was offered by Senator DeMint and was accepted as part of the DC voting rights bill which is currently awaiting consideration by the House of Representatives. I am concerned that once the House considers this bill, whenever that might occur, and the Senate and House versions are conferenced together, this provision will no longer be a part of the final DC voting rights bill.

   I will say I am hopeful that the DeMint amendment is retained in the final version of the DC Voting Rights Act, but I am fearful it will be stripped out behind closed doors when the conference committee gets underway.

   So I filed an amendment to the Omnibus appropriations bill that would prohibit the FCC from using any funds to reinstate the fairness doctrine during the current fiscal year.

   If this amendment is accepted to the omnibus bill, then the 87 Senators who supported this prohibition last week will have assurances that the fairness doctrine will not be reinstated for the remainder of this year regardless of whether the DeMint amendment remains part of the DC Voting Rights Act.

   I would also like to remind my colleagues a similar provision was included as part of the fiscal year 2008 Omnibus appropriations bill, section 621, that was enacted into law last year. However, that language was not included as part of the fiscal year 2009 Omnibus appropriations bill.

   Now, one of the arguments that has been made against this amendment from my colleagues on the other side is, well, this issue is not that important. Nobody really cares about it. It is not going to happen.

   If that is the case, then why is it that the prohibition on funding to reinstate the fairness doctrine was stripped out of this bill after it had been included in the fiscal year 2008 appropriations bill?
[Page: S2932]  GPO's PDF

   The so-called fairness doctrine has a long and infamous history in our country. The FCC promulgated the fairness doctrine in 1949 to ensure the contrasting viewpoints would be presented on radio and television. In 1985, the FCC began repealing the doctrine after concluding that it actually had the opposite effect.

   They concluded then what we still know today, and that is the fairness doctrine resulted in broadcasters limiting coverage of controversial issues of public importance.

   Now, recently, many on the left have advocated reinstating the doctrine. They argue that broadcasters, including talk radio, should present both sides of any issue because they use the public airwaves. However, recent calls to reinstate the fairness doctrine failed to take into account several considerations, which I will mention in just a moment. But in the event that there would be any question about whether there are those out there who would like to see this happen--because that has been one of the arguments raised in the course of the debate, that nobody in here is very serious about really doing this--if you look at what the Speaker of the House said when she was asked: Do you personally support revival of the fairness doctrine? She said, ``Yes.''

   The leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives recently said:

   There is a real concern about the monopoly of information and the skewering of information that the American public gets.

   First, as to the monopoly. Obviously if one group or a large group controls information and only allows one perspective to be presented, that is not good for democracy. That is not good for the American public.

   That is, of course, what the fairness doctrine is directed at. It can have great merit. Those are the two top Democrats in the House of Representatives, and those are statements made within the last year.

   Then perhaps even more telling is what was said by a top staffer in the House. And it says:

   Conservative radio is a huge threat and political advantage for Republicans, and we have had to find a way to limit it.

   I would submit that really is what this is all about. We have had Members on this side, in the Senate, on the other side of the aisle, who have made similar statements. Recently, on a radio program one of my colleagues on the other side was asked: Do you think there will be a push to reinstate the fairness doctrine? ``I don't know; I certainly hope so'' was the answer.

   Do you support it? ``I do.''

   I mean, would you want this radio station to have to change? ``I would. I would want this station and all stations to present a balanced perspective and different point of view.''

   What we are talking about is a first amendment right. In reality, the fairness doctrine resulted in less, not more, broadcasting of issues that are important to the public because airing controversial issues subjected broadcasters to regulatory burdens and potentially severe liabilities. They simply made the rational choice not to air any such content at all.

   Now, the number of radio and TV stations and development of newer broadcast media, such as cable and satellite TV and satellite radio, have grown dramatically in the past 50 years. In 1949, there were 51 television stations and about 2,500 radio stations in the entire United States.

   In 1985, there were 1,200 television stations and 9,800 radio stations. Today, there are nearly 1,800 television stations and nearly 14,000 radio stations. There is simply no scarcity to justify content regulation such as the fairness doctrine.

   The third point I will make is this: Development of new media, social networking, and access to the Internet has changed media forever. Supporters of government-mandated balance either ignore the new multiple sources of media or they reveal their true intention, which is to regulate content on all forms of communication and ultimately stifle certain viewpoints on certain media such as talk radio.

   Fourth, broadcast content is driven by consumer demand. Consumers of media show whether they are being served well by broadcasters when they choose either to tune in or turn off the programming that is being offered. The fairness doctrine runs counter to individual choice and freedom to choose what we listen to or see on the air or read on the Internet.

   The fairness doctrine should not be reinstated, and 2 weeks ago the Senate acted in a strong bipartisan manner in opposition to the fairness doctrine. I am asking the Senate to agree to my amendment because it simply prohibits any funding from being used to reinstate the fairness doctrine just as we included as part of last year's Omnibus appropriations bill.

   Adoption of my amendment would ensure that our first amendment rights are protected and that consumers have the freedom to choose what they see and hear over our airwaves. This amendment ensures that the Federal Communications Commission does not use any resources to reinstate the fairness doctrine through the end of the fiscal year until a more permanent solution can be reached through a statutory prohibition.

   As I said, 2 weeks ago, the Senate adopted this by a vote of 87 to 11. There were 87 Senators in the Senate who agreed to language that was contained in the DeMint amendment to the DC Voting Rights Act.

   Similar language prohibiting the FCC from reinstating the fairness doctrine again, as I said earlier, was contained in last year's Omnibus appropriations bill. The administration of President Obama is on record opposing efforts to reinstate the fairness doctrine. It makes sense, in my judgment, that we echo all of those statements and the vote that was made by the Senate a couple of weeks ago by including a prohibition on funding for the FCC to reinstate the fairness doctrine.

   Again, we do not know what is going to happen in the DC Voting Rights Act, whether this provision is going to be stripped out, whether the DeMint amendment is going to be stripped out. So it is important, in my view, that we reinforce the vote by making a strong statement, at least for this fiscal year's funding, that funding in the FCC cannot and will not be used to reinstate the fairness doctrine.

   There is no reason for the Senate not to vote for this language. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this amendment and putting us on record when it comes to the funding that would be used to reinstate the fairness doctrine that this appropriations bill will not do that.

   I yield the floor.

 

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