This vote was on an amendment by Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to encourage diversity in media ownership and ensure broadcasters use the airwaves in the public interest. His amendment was offered to another amendment offered by Jim DeMint, R-S.C., that would prohibit the FCC from reinstating what is known as the “fairness doctrine,” an old policy that required broadcasters to give equal airtime to opposing political viewpoints. The amendments were offered during the course of debate on an unrelated bill that would grant the District of Columbia full voting rights in the House.
For the past few years, Republicans have sought to prohibit the fairness doctrine from being reinstated, fearing that it would quash outlets for conservative views such as talk radio. Critics of reinstating the doctrine say it is too outmoded given the explosion of new media outlets for varying viewpoints. Democrats say they have no plans to try to reinstate the fairness doctrine in any case.
DeMint said Durbin’s amendment would apply too broadly. He said the portion that requires diversity in media ownership could apply to the Internet, blogs, television and newspapers as well as radio stations.
“This language would direct the Federal Communications Commission to take action to enforce diversity in communication. This is Soviet-style language that you are going to get some rosy picture of in a minute. But it is so open and so vague that about every communication outlet in this country is going to be faced with accusations that their ownership is not diverse,” DeMint said. “What does “diverse” mean? Does it mean “white and black”? What they are after is what they believe, what their opinions are. If this were applied to our offices here in the Senate, we could not say anything, I could not express my opinion today without being obligated by law to go find somebody to say something completely opposite of what I am saying. This is not freedom. Anyone who votes for this alternative is voting to repress the freedom of speech in this country, the freedom of media.”
Durbin said his amendment is necessary in order to ensure that DeMint’s amendment does not undermine the FCC’s ability to ensure broadcasters meet their obligations to the public interest.
“Senator DeMint’s amendment … goes way beyond stopping the fairness doctrine; it undermines the FCC’s ability to make sure broadcasters meet these public interest obligations. So what. What if the public interest requirement disappeared tomorrow? There would be no requirement that your local station provide local news and weather. There would be no requirement that your local television station provide children with programming that is free from sex and violence. There would be no requirement to make sure advertising to children is subject to appropriate limitations and no requirement to provide a minimum amount of educational programming on each channel. Does that have anything to do with the fairness doctrine? It doesn’t. What Senator DeMint is doing is undermining broadcasting in the public interest,” Durbin said.
By a vote of 57-41, the Senate adopted Durbin’s amendment to DeMint’s amendment. Every Republican present voted against the amendment, and every Democrat present voted for the amendment. The end result is that an amendment that would encourage diversity in media ownership and stipulate that broadcast licenses should be used in the public interest was adopted.