House Republicans ask FCC to take Fairness Doctrine off the books

The leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski on Tuesday asking him to strike the Fairness Doctrine from the agency’s rulebook.

The controversial rule, introduced in 1949, required broadcasters to present controversial public issues in a manner deemed fair and balanced by the FCC. The commission concluded in 1987 that the Fairness Doctrine was unconstitutional and pledged to cease enforcing it. 

Ten years later a D.C. Circuit Court case prompted the FCC to repeal its political-editorial and personal-attack rules because they interfere with the editorial judgment of journalists. However, both laws remain in the Code of Federal Regulations, according to Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell.

“The media marketplace is more diverse and competitive today than it was 10 years ago when the D.C. Circuit Court struck down the commission’s political-editorial and personal-attack rules,” wrote Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

“The difference is even more stark when compared to the market 20 years ago, when the commission concluded that the Fairness Doctrine was unconstitutional.”

In recent years some Democrats have said they support reviving the policy in some form due to the increasingly confrontational and partisan nature of some radio and cable TV news programming, usually prompting a strong backlash from conservatives and civil libertarians.

Genachowski has said in the past that he does not support reinstating the Fairness Doctrine.

The lawmakers cite President Obama’s recent executive order ordering agencies to remove unwarranted regulations from their rolls as justification for the request.

“The Fairness Doctrine, political-editorial and personal-attack rules would seem like an easy place to start since the FCC has already abandoned them based on principles you say you continue to support,” the letter states.

The lawmakers ask Genachowski to remove the rules from the Code of Federal Regulations as soon as possible and confirm the request by Friday with an estimate of how long it will take.

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