Fairness Doctrine is dead, says FCC chair

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Broadcasting & Cable reports today that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says he plans to formally remove the Fairness Doctrine from the FCC’s administrative rules.

The revelation comes after two House members — Fred Upton, R-Mich., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Greg Walden, R-Ore., chair of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology — asked Genachowski to get rid of the doctrine earlier this year. The FCC chairman replied in a June 6 letter, expressing support for eliminating the rule “so that there can be no mistake that what has been a dead letter is truly dead.”

Genachowski’s opposition to the rule is not new. He favored throwing out the rule when he was confirmed in 2009. However, this is the latest — and most specific — plan articulated thus far by the FCC.

“I look forward to effectuating this change when acting on the staff’s recommendations and anticipate that the process can be completed in the near future,” Genachowski wrote.

Enacted in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to air issues of public concern and to cover opposing views fairly. First Amendment advocates have long argued the rule chills political speech. (See article by First Amendment Center Founder John Seigenthaler.)

In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, finding that the rule comported with – and in fact, “enhance[s]” – the First Amendment.

But the FCC later cast doubt on the constitutional validity of the doctrine in 1987 and deemed it unenforceable. The rule was just never formally repealed from the Code of Federal Regulations.

First Amendment Center intern Jonathan Anderson is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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