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FCC's Martin: Fairness Doctrine Dead

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WASHINGTON The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission sought to assure lawmakers that he isn't planning to have the FCC reinstate the so-called "fairness doctrine."

In a letter to Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., that was made public Thursday, FCC chairman Kevin Martin said the agency found no compelling reason to revisit its 1987 decision that enforcing the federal rule was not in the public interest.

"Discussion of controversial issues over the airwaves has flourished absent regulatory constraints, and the public now enjoys access to an ever-expanding range of views and opinions. Indeed, with the continued proliferation of additional sources of information and programming, including satellite broadcasting and the Internet, the need for the fairness doctrine has lessened ever further since 1987," Martin wrote. "In short, I see no compelling reason to reinstate the fairness doctrine in today's broadcast environment."

Pence, who has made somewhat of a reputation on speech issues, introduced the Broadcasters Freedom Act that would prevent Congress from reinstating the doctrine. He also has pushed an amendment to a government-spending bill that does the same thing.

Some notable Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., have reportedly suggested that Congress needs to resurrect the FCC doctrine that required broadcast licensees to present controversial issues of public importance in what was deemed by the government as an honest, equal and balanced manner.

Republicans contend that Democratic ire at conservative talk radio and other conservative news outlets like Fox News Channel has fueled a desire to bring the doctrine back.

The fairness doctrine was largely criticized as actually enforcing unfairness as it allowed the government to define what was fair. While the courts have questioned aspects of the doctrine, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FCC's authority to enforce the doctrine in 1969.

In August 1987, the FCC abolished the doctrine by a 4-0 vote, saying that it had grown to inhibit rather than enhance debate and suggested that because of the many media voices in the marketplace at the time, the doctrine was perceived to be unconstitutional.

Congress attempted to restore the doctrine in 1987, but President Reagan vetoed the legislation. A second attempt to resurrect the doctrine in 1991 was derailed when President George H.W. Bush threatened another veto.