WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate voted Wednesday to bar federal regulators from reinstating a policy, abandoned two decades ago, that required balanced coverage of issues on public airwaves.
The pre-emptive strike against the so-called Fairness Doctrine has been actively pushed by conservative radio talk show hosts, who have warned that Democrats would seek to revive the policy to ensure that liberal opinions get equal time.
The 87-11 vote added the measure as an amendment to a bill giving District of Columbia residents a vote in the House.
Most Democrats voted along with the amendment, pushed by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., but said it was unneeded because President Barack Obama has stated he has no intention of reviving the Fairness Doctrine. They added that it is generally recognized that it is no longer relevant with the proliferation of television networks, some 14,000 AM-FM radio stations and the Internet.
The measure now goes to the House.
The Federal Communications Commission implemented the doctrine in 1949 but stopped enforcing it in 1987.
But DeMint said it was still necessary to get in writing a guarantee that the government would not apply quotas or guidelines to programming.
The doctrine, said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, "amounted to government control over political speech." Congress needed to "kill the so-called Fairness Doctrine once and for all."
Before the vote, the Senate approved by 57-41 a parallel amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., restating existing law that federal regulators would work to promote diversity in media ownership, and that the DeMint provision would not take away FCC authority to ensure that broadcasters meet their obligations to operate in the public interest.
House Republicans have introduced similar language to prevent the FCC from implementing a new version of the Fairness Doctrine.