Senators pushing for return of equal-time rules

Wed Nov 26, 2008 12:06am EST
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By Paul Bond

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Fairness Doctrine, which forced broadcasters to offer equal time to both sides of controversial issues, was abolished in 1987, paving the way for talk radio to take the opinionated -- and popular -- form it has today.

Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and such influential Democratic senators as Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer are pushing for its return, or something like it. Could the equal-time provisions pull a Don Imus and make a radio comeback?

It could, industry insiders say. And the government-mandated programing restrictions that come with it could hobble an already struggling industry. Talk-radio hosts are unlikely to accept a new Fairness Doctrine without a fight, though. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are among those already railing against it daily.

By some estimates, conservatives on talk radio dominate liberals by a ratio of 10-to-1, hence the call by some liberals to bring back the Fairness Doctrine. But Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) inserted language into the Federal Communications Commission's current budget barring it from being reinstated this year.

With the year drawing to an end and Barack Obama moving into the White House, talk about the Fairness Doctrine has heated up. Obama likely will name a new FCC chairman and make Democrats a majority on the five-person panel for the first time in eight years.


Obama has called on Henry Rivera, who was a commissioner in the 1980s when the Fairness Doctrine existed, to oversee the FCC transition process. Rivera is a supporter of bringing back the provisions. And heading Obama's overall transition team is John Podesta, head of liberal think tank the Center for American Progress. Last year, the CAP issued a report called "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio."

While the CAP stopped short of advocating a return of the Fairness Doctrine, it did support more stringent adherence to so-called localism, which critics consider a back door to requiring that stations ditch some of their conservative hosts.   Continued...