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US Senate votes to block FCC reinstatement of Fairness Doctrine

[JURIST] The US Senate on Thursday voted 87-11 [roll call] to approve an amendment [S.Amdt. 573 text, PDF] that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine [MBC backgrounder]. Under the doctrine, which was struck down by the FCC in 1987, broadcast licenses could be revoked if the broadcaster failed to give airtime to opposing sides of controversial issues. The proposal was introduced by conservative lawmakers seeking to preempt the Obama administration from attempting to resurrect the policy, but earlier this month a White House spokesman told Fox News that Obama opposes the Fairness Doctrine [report]. The Senate proposal forbids the FCC from prescribing any rules or standards requiring "that broadcasters present or ascertain opposing viewpoints on issues of public importance." The amendment was added to the District of Columbia House Voting Act [S. 160 materials; text, PDF], which seeks to provide full voting rights to the District of Columbia in the House of Representatives. The legislation now moves to the House for consideration.

In July 2007, then-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin assured the public that the FCC would not reinstate [JURIST report] the Fairness Doctrine. Martin's comments followed a push from Democratic lawmakers for Congress to consider reinstating the doctrine, after conservative radio talk shows widely attacked immigration reform bills on air. Republican members of Congress responded by introducing the ultimately-unsuccessful Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2007 [HR 2905 text], which would have prevented reinstatement of the doctrine.

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