Over the past few months, we’ve seen a seemingly endless parade of bailouts from Washington — for banks, for automobiles, and just about everything else. Today, Congress may be voting on yet another bailout — this time for liberal media. This afternoon, the Senate is expected to take up a proposal by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois which would clear the way for a restoration of measures designed to chill speech considered too conservative. The Durbin measure is being offered as a substitute to a contrary measure by Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina which would bar the FCC from re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine.
Interestingly, the Durbin amendment doesn’t actually address the Fairness Doctrine itself. Supporters of such a direct attempt to reimpose the doctrine know that such an direct attempt to return to the speech-muzzling rules of the past would be doomed to fail. Notably, even President Obama has declined to support such a step. Instead, the measure would simply require the FCC to promote “diversity” in media ownership and to ensure that broadcast stations licenses are used “in the public interest.”
But who’s to say after all what constitutes proper “diversity” and what is in the “public interest?” Would diversity be enhanced if there were less time devoted to conservative views? Would the “public interest” be served by increasing airtime for Bill Press and Air America?
Just a few days ago the pro-regulation advocacy group Free Press issued a report entitled “The Fairness Doctrine Distraction,” outlining just such a strategy. The problem, the group has long argued, is an imbalance in talk radio – specifically too many conservative voices. But the solution is not the Fairness Doctrine per se. The solution is stricter ownership rules governing who can hold a broadcast license, stricter “localism” and other public interest requirements, and strict rules on the Internet to enforce “neutrality” there.
This is the Left’s agenda for “correcting” the “problem” of too many conservative views on the air. Senator Durbin seems to have taken it to heart. No one should be fooled — it’s the Fairness Doctrine under a different name.