Senate Democrats Vote Against Free Speechby Doug Mataconis
On Friday, the Democratic controlled Senate voted down a bill that would have barred the Federal Communications Commission from reinstating the so-called Fairness Doctrine without Congressional approval:
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Friday blocked an amendment by Sen. Norm Coleman that would have prevented the return of the Fairness Doctrine, a federal rule which required broadcasters to air opposing views on issues.
Although no legislation has been offered to bring back the regulation, which was scrapped in 1987, Coleman and other Republicans have been mounting a pre-emptive attack in recent weeks, arguing that a return to the old rule would give the government too much power in regulating content. The House recently passed an amendment banning the rule’s return.
When Coleman, R-Minn., tried to bring up his amendment Friday to a defense authorization bill, Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who chairs the Armed Services Committee, objected. According to Levin’s office, he objected because the amendment belonged in the Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction, and because it would have taken up time while the Senate was trying to debate Iraq.
The subtext of the debate over the Fairness Doctrine is talk radio’s perceived dominance by conservative voices.
In a telephone interview, Coleman said his motivation was to preserve the First Amendment. But he added: “I do have a strong objection to folks wanting to cut off talk radio because it’s conservative. Let the people be able to make the choice.”
Contrast this seemingly common sense approach to the issue to the neo-Marxist ideas of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin:
“The airwaves belong to the American people,” Durbin said. “Those who profit from them do by permission of the people through their government.” He said that broadcasters should provide both points of view on an issue.
This, I think is the rock on which this entire argument is based. Since radio and television were first invented, we’ve lived with the absurd idea that the airwaves “belong” to the public. What that argument forgets, however, is that it wasn’t “the public” or the state that made the huge investment in research, development, and infrastructure that was necessary to first make the idea of mass broadcast of wireless radio and television a practical idea. And it’s not “the public” or the state who continue to put up the money it takes to run a radio or television station.
Since that’s the case, what right do either this amorphous group called “the public” or the state have to tell broadcasters what they can and cannot put on the air ?
Yea, I can’t figure it out either.