June 30, 2007


If you didn’t happen to catch Friday morning’s episode of C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, you might not have heard that those of us who support the First Amendment won a small victory recently.

Passing by a vote of 309-115-1, the Pence-Hensarling-Flake Amendment (H.AMDT.484 [A031]) made it through the House of Representatives, giving free expression advocates a little more hope that government-mandated speech isn’t on the horizon.

The amendment was attached to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2008 (H.R. 2829) and prohibits the Federal Communications Commission from using funding to impose the coercive Fairness Doctrine, which advocates claim will bolster “fairness” and “diversity” by requiring outlets such as talk radio stations to express certain political viewpoints against their will.

The old version of the doctrine helped to all but eliminate political discourse on the radio dial because stations simply opted to avoid any controversy altogether instead of worrying about who said what and how often it might be said. Time reports that National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said of the Fairness Doctrine: “It actually inhibited free speech because broadcasters simply avoided covering controversial issues because they feared that the FCC might either fine them or revoke their licenses. It actually had the practical impact of chilling speech rather than enhancing it.”

It was laid to rest in the 1980s by the FCC and pertained to radio and television, but given our technological advancements since then there has been concern that the Internet—and most notably blogs—would be added to the list of government-regulated speech if a twenty-first century version of the doctrine was drafted.

Those of us who see the rule as the fascist (and I use that term in the true sense of fascism) mandate that it is will continue to argue in favor of the First Amendment and denounce the Fairness Doctrine. Supporters, some of whom called C-SPAN’s morning show on Friday and stumbled over almost every question that was posed to them by host Brian Lamb, apparently want fairness—even if it means violating the First Amendment . (Then again, we’ve already seen that unconstitutional mandates are popular with a large percentage of the U.S. population, so perhaps I shouldn’t be shocked.)

That aside, a list of representatives who voted for and against free speech can be found below. Some of the prominent names who voted against the idea of not funding the implementation of the Fairness Doctrine: Conyers; DeFazio; DeLauro; Fattah; Frank; Hoyer; Jefferson; Kanjorski; Kucinich; Levin; Lewis; Lowey; McDermott; Murtha; Nadler; Rangel; Slaughter; Wasserman Schultz; and Wexler.

In the transcript of the debate over the amendment, it’s interesting to see some of Dennis Kucinich’s (D-OH) comments pertaining to the matter: the doctrine will give us “productive public debate” (productive in the eyes of those calling the shots, of course) and will “need to restore accountability to those who use the publicly-owned airwaves” (again, accountable to whomever is in power at that moment). Kucinich concluded by saying that the Fairness Doctrine debate won’t happen while BushCorp is in the White House, but that “it may happen under a future administration.” Oh joy.

We’ll have to see how the bill does in the Senate.

For those who are unaware of what the First Amendment says about government-mandated speech, the text states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

For those who don’t like what they hear on a talk radio show (or television or the Internet, for that matter), turn off whatever it is and find something that you like. Don’t attempt to control what others say because you don’t like it or find it “unfair.”

Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2008 (H.R. 2829)
H.AMDT.484 (A031)
Roll Call for H.AMDT.484
Transcript of H.AMDT.484 Debate (scroll to middle for Kucinich quotes)