Fight brews over Fairness Doctrine restoration plan

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(Host) A bitter fight is brewing in Congress over a plan to restore the "Fairness Doctrine" for radio and TV stations throughout the country.

Senator Bernie Sanders says the plan is needed to provide a balance of political views on conservative talk shows. But many Republicans strongly oppose the measure because they say the legislation will stifle free speech.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The Fairness Doctrine was put into place in 1949 and it required TV and radio stations to present opposing points of view on controversial issues.

In 1987, the Federal Communications Commission abolished the Fairness Doctrine. The FCC concluded that it wasn’t very effective and concerns were raised about the constitutionality of the Doctrine.

Senator Bernie Sanders is part of a group of senators who believe that the time has come to restore the Fairness Doctrine.

Sanders says the stations hold public licenses and should be required to offer various points of view. That’s something he says many conservative talk shows don’t do now.

(Sanders) "What you’re looking at is a situation where many important points of view frankly are not getting the type of hearings and discussion that they should. So this is an issue that I certainly intend to take a hard look at."

(Kinzel) Many Republicans strongly oppose this plan.

GOP State director Rob Roper:

(Roper) "To instill this is really to silence people. It has nothing to do with fairness. They don’t like conservative talk radio, so they want to silence it."

(Kinzel) Roper says many stations program conservative talk formats because that’s what listeners want to hear.

(Roper) "Remember, radio stations for the most part are businesses. They’re trying to sell air time. They’re trying to sell commercial time within their broadcast. So if you have a business, you have to allow the business to be profitable."

(Kinzel) Sanders argues that the marketplace has very little to do with the decision to air these programs.

(Sanders) "I don’t believe that at all. I think that has to do with who owns the media and the fact that these right-wing talk show hosts echo the points of view to a large degree of corporate America."

(Kinzel) Sanders is also backing efforts to reinstate a national cap on the ownership of radio stations. Right now there is none. He also wants to limit the number of stations that one company can own in a single market.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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