Judicial Watch • Judicial Watch Uncovers New FCC Documents on Fairness Doctrine Debate

Judicial Watch Uncovers New FCC Documents on Fairness Doctrine Debate

Judicial Watch Uncovers New FCC Documents on Fairness Doctrine Debate

MAY 07, 2009

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has obtained documents from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concerning the "Fairness Doctrine," a policy abolished in 1987, and other governmental means to limit free speech in the media. Judicial Watch obtained the documents in response to a December 2008 Freedom of Information Act request.

While President Obama is on record opposing the return of the Fairness Doctrine, which is viewed by many as an attempt to squelch the free speech of conservatives in the media, these documents show that the FCC is considering alternative proposals that may also regulate free speech in the media under the professed goal of "diversity."

For example, in December 2007, the FCC proposed new "localism" measures to force broadcast stations to offer programming more "responsive to the needs and interests of the communities that they are licensed to serve." These proposed measures, highlighted in a document entitled, "The Report on Broadcast Localism and Notice of Approved Rulemaking," included a requirement that broadcasters, "provide 3 hours per week of locally-produced program," and that licensees establish "permanent advisory boards (including representatives of underserved community segments)." The FCC noted that these measures would become part of the application renewal process to make sure broadcasters "meet their responsibilities."

Problems with "localism" are highlighted in a legal memo written by Kathleen Kirby of the law firm Wiley Rein and submitted to Rosemary Harold, serving as legal counsel to FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell. In the document, which was distributed internally at the FCC, Ms. Kirby advises that the Fairness Doctrine "would do well to stay dead." Ms. Kirby then turns her attention to "localism," advising that such a policy could represent a "stealth enactment" of the Fairness Doctrine. Ms. Kirby states: "Convene permanent advisory boards? Give aggrieved listeners ‘more straightforward guidance’ on ‘how individuals can directly participate in the license renewal process?’ That sounds mild. But then again, so did the Fairness Doctrine."

"These documents are a useful insight into the internal debates at the FCC about the Fairness Doctrine and its cousin, ‘localism,’ said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. "We’re going to have to keep an eye on this FCC. The last thing our country needs is bureaucrats in the Obama administration stomping on the First Amendment rights of conservatives."

Press Advisory: Judicial Watch will host a panel discussion regarding the "Fairness Doctrine" May 14th, 12:30 – 2 p.m., in the First Amendment Lounge of the National Press Club, 14th & F Streets, NW, Washington, DC.

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