Last week I joined 86 of my colleagues and passed Senate Amendment 573, offered by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) to the District of Columbia Voting Rights Act, which prohibits the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from reinstituting the fairness doctrine.

That vote was the first nail in the coffin of the fairness doctrine, but it was certainly not the end of the attempt on the part of liberals to regulate broadcast media. In a straight partly-line vote, Democrats chose to adopt an amendment (S. Amdt. 591) sponsored by Senator Richard DurbinDick DurbinCOVID-19: US should help Africa, or China will GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in MORE (D-IL), which calls on the FCC to “encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership and to ensure that broadcast station licenses are used in the public interest.” Those on the liberal side of the aisle believed that this would allow them to proclaim their opposition to a reinstatement of the fairness doctrine, which has always been a losing issue for them, while at the same time accomplish their goal of regulating talk radio. What was once the fairness doctrine has now become the Durbin Doctrine.

I certainly can’t tell you what “encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership” means, and the legislation offers no words of clarification or specificity. Federal agencies love this kind of language because it gives them greater leeway to interpret it however they like and impose their will upon the industry that they regulate. This legislation is so incredibly vague and so potentially far-reaching that I can’t say with any certainty what the end result will be. This is not good governance and it is not good legislative practice to cede such authority to any agency of our government, especially when the right to speak freely over the airwaves will most certainly be impacted.

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Another threat to our freedom of speech is a stealth proposal called localism. The FCC gave notice of proposed localism regulations in January of 2008, and while the proposal was ultimately dropped, it is indicative of future attempts to regulate the airwaves and something that all Americans need to know about. Among other things, the proposal would have required radio stations to adhere to programming advice from community advisory boards, report every three months on the content of their programming and how their programming reflects community interests, and meet burdensome license renewal requirements. The localism rule, had it been promulgated, would have forced radio stations to comply with blanket regulations and to broadcast programming that is not commercially viable, rather than taking into account the diverse needs of their communities.

From a market standpoint, stations already strive to meet the needs of their local community. It makes sense for them to cover local news and events because that increases ratings. Why should Washington regulate what local stations are already doing? These community advisory boards, or local content boards, coupled with the threat of license renewal requirements, are a way that liberals can affect what is broadcast over the airwaves. Liberals have created a regulatory avenue by which to accomplish their goal of silencing talk radio, because they are incapable of competing in the broadcast radio market. President Obama has expressed support for new localism regulations, and it is expected to come up again under his administration.

All those who value their right to listen to the things that are important to them and important to their community must be aware of the great potential for infringement on free speech that localism will bring. One thing that I know, when you take choice out of the market, and when you impose government’s will on an industry, that market and that industry will suffer, and that is exactly what localism and the Durbin Doctrine attempt to accomplish.

What is most concerning to me is the enforcement procedure for breaches of localism and diversity promotion regulations. The revocation of broadcaster licenses is a real possibility, which at the very least will threaten the willingness of broadcasters to appeal to conservative listeners. Senator Durbin’s amendment requires affirmative action on the part of the FCC, stating: “the Commission shall take actions to encourage and promote diversity.” It doesn’t stipulate what actions, or to what degree, but instead leaves the enforcement mechanism up to the determination of the FCC, which will likely be emboldened by the affirmative language of the amendment. I find this to be extremely dangerous, and so too should everyone who tunes in to talk radio. New regulations coupled with the threat of license revocation completely undermine the free market of the broadcast industry.

I am adamantly opposed to any attempt to regulate the airwaves, such as broadcast localism, more stringent licensing requirements, and vague diversity regulations that are aimed at an industry whose authorizing authority is the First Amendment to the Constitution. Let this be a warning, just as the fairness doctrine has always been a loser for the left, so too will any infringement upon the free speech of the American people.