Is Durbin dishing out stealth Fairness Doctrine?


Broadcasters and Republican sponsors of legislation banning reintroduction of the Fairness Doctrine had plenty of reason to celebrate the Senate’s overwhelming approval of just such an amendment. But some still smell a back door approach for the Doctrine. In fact, while many Democrats voted to permanently block the Fairness plank, not a single Republican voted for the Dick Durbin (D-IL) measure instructing the FCC take steps to increase diversity of broadcast license ownership. And some think Durbin is going after Clear Channel and Rush Limbaugh specifically.

If the NAB was worried about an ulterior motive, it kept quiet about it. Upon passage of the DeMint amendment, NAB’s Dennis Wharton said, "NAB applauds today’s Senate vote in opposition to the inaptly-named Fairness Doctrine. Diversity of opinion has never been greater than in today’s media landscape. We salute President Obama and a bipartisan majority of the Senate for opposing the return of a rule that clearly violated the fundamental free speech rights under which this country was founded."

However, DeMint commented, “Sen. Durbin’s amendment exposed Democrat intentions to impose radio censorship through the back door using vague regulations dealing with media ownership,” said DeMint.  And DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton expanded on the theme, saying Durbin was trying “muzzle successful syndicated radio programs. They’re trying to break up Clear Channel and other successful syndicated radio programs.”

Durbin dismissed the charge, saying “To argue what I am putting here is a dramatic change in the law, is going to somehow muzzle Rush Limbaugh — that’s not the case. No one is suggesting that the law for the Federal Communications Commission says that you can give this license to a Republican and this one to a Democrat and this one to a liberal and this one to a conservative. When we talk about diversity in media ownership it relates primarily to gender, race and other characteristics of that nature.”

RBR/TVBR observation: In our view, the Durbin measure is fairly inconsequential – the FCC is already looking at ways to increase the number of minorities and women among broadcast licensees, a process that was in full flower while Republican Kevin Martin was still Chairman, and which adopted a great number of proposals from the activist Media and Minority Telecommunications Council.

It is a difficult proposition because court precedent makes the writing of lawsuit-proof regulatory language challenging in the extreme, not to mention the fact that there is no way for the FCC or any other government entity to stand up, point a finger at a majority licensee and order the licensee to sell immediately to a minority. All Durbin’s measure really does is tell the FCC to proceed as it was, in the knowledge that it is acting in line with the expressed will of the Senate.

On top of that, if anybody is looking for a conspiracy theory, there already is a plot afoot to break up Clear Channel. It was conceived and initiated by [drum roll please]: Clear Channel. CC would love to sell off hundreds upon hundreds of its stations. The only problem: There isn’t anybody out there right now with the wherewithal to buy any of Maybe if the company starts to bring asking prices down in line with new economic realities, some of the stations it’s put on the block will start to move.them.