FCC Officially Removes Fairness Doctrine, 82 Other Regulations From Rule Books

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In a significant move to placate industry and help satisfy the Obama administration's push to get rid of outdated regulations, the Federal Communications Commission will eliminate a total of 83 rules, including the controversial Fairness Doctrine, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced Aug. 22.

The 83 rules add to the 50 that the FCC has already rescinded as part of the agency's so-called “reform agenda,” an acknowledgement of President Obama's executive order to federal agencies to ensure that regulations are not unnecessarily burdensome on the business community.

Independent agencies fall outside the scope of Obama's order, but Genachowski has said that the FCC will continue to honor the spirit and goals of the directive.

“Our extensive efforts to eliminate outdated regulations are rooted in our commitment to ensure that FCC rules and policies promote a healthy climate for private investment and job creation,” Genachowski said in a prepared statement. “I'm proud of the work we are doing toward our goal of being a model of excellence in government. This includes our recent commitment to act in accordance with the recent ‘Executive Order on Regulation and Independent Agencies,' which is consistent with the values and philosophy we apply at the FCC.”

Of the 83 regulations stripped away from the FCC's rule books, the most noteworthy is the Fairness Doctrine, which requires radio and television broadcasters to cover all sides of a controversy. Opponents of the doctrine have argued that it allows inappropriate and likely unconstitutional government intrusion into the editorial judgment of radio and television stations. Supporters, however, have called the doctrine a critical element of a broadcaster's basic public interest obligation to a community. Supporters also contend that because the airwaves are a scarce government resource licensed to broadcasters, regulation by the FCC ensures that all viewpoints are heard.

The Fairness Doctrine is not currently enforced by the FCC, and has not been applied to broadcasters for more than 20 years. In his statement, Genachowski said the Fairness Doctrine is an “unnecessary distraction.”

“Striking this from our books ensures there can be no mistake that what has long been a dead letter remains dead,” he said. “The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago. I am pleased we are removing these and other obsolete rules from our books.”

Copps Says FCC Shirking Public Interest Mandate.

Responding to the announcement Aug. 22, Commissioner Michael Copps questioned the underlying goal of “killing the Fairness Doctrine twice.”

Prior to becoming an FCC commissioner, Copps had served as chief of staff to Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-S.C.), who had co-sponsored the measure to write the Fairness Doctrine into law.

“It was already a dead letter,” Copps said of the Fairness Doctrine in a statement. “Frankly, I think we should focus on tackling the very live challenges that face broadcast news in the 21st century: Where have all the journalists gone and why? . . . Part of the shortfall has been an FCC that has been asleep at the switch for the better part of 30 years in meeting its statutory public interest oversight responsibilities. Instead of burying the dead, we should be breathing new life into the commission's real duty to promote localism, diversity and competition in our media.”

On Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers have increasingly waded into the matter of the Fairness Doctrine.

In 2007, Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act (S.1742; S.1748; H.R. 2905), which would have prevented the FCC from “reinstating or repromulgating,” in whole or in part, the Fairness Doctrine.

Similar legislation was introduced during the 111th Congress, but failed to advance.

Full List Available Wednesday.

The rule repeals will not be officially adopted by the FCC until Aug. 24, at which point the agency will detail those that will be eliminated.

By Paul Barbagallo