Harkin & the Fairness Doctrine

The Politico's Michael Calderone has the story/audio. Here's the key Harkin quote: "We've got to get the Fairness Doctrine back in law again." 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the "Fairness Doctrine" here is a piece from the Museum of Broadcast Communications.  Here's what the president of the Radio & Television News Directors Association had to say about it in September of 2007.  (Full disclosure:  I am a member of RTNDA.)

There is nothing on Harkin's website about the issue. I am starting to get email/news releases about it, though.

Feb. 11, 2009

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) sent a letter today to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and other legislators asking Harkin to reconsider his support for the controversial ‘Fairness Doctrine.’

Harkin expressed his support for the reinstating the draconian law on a taping of The Bill Press Show.

In January a coalition of U.S. Representatives and Senators favoring media freedom unveiled a bill designed to permanently ban the ‘Fairness Doctrine,’ a law mandating broadcast censorship and regulation of political speech repealed in 1987.

“It’s clear after repeated comments by Sen. Harkin and other members of Congress who seek to use government to squelch political speech on the air that this bill is needed protect the First Amendment by ensuring that the misguided ‘Fairness Doctrine’ never again comes into effect,” said Sean Parnell, President of the Center for Competitive Politics, which advocates for the First Amendment political rights of speech, assembly and petition.

“In an age of vast and diverse media there’s absolutely no justification for a new ‘Censorship Doctrine’ to regulate political speech,” Parnell said.

In recent years, some in Congress have called for a return to the ‘Censorship Doctrine,’ prompting opponents to introduce the Broadcast Freedom Act last session. The legislation was not brought up for a vote, but it has been reintroduced in the House and Senate.

“The revival of this policy raises grave free speech concerns, and is a direct assault on the idea that ‘Congress shall make no law…’ when it comes to political speech,” Parnell wrote in the letter. “Prior to the repeal of the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ in 1987, this policy was routinely used by politicians and others to silence their critics and limit the scope of political ideas and public policies discussed on the air.”
In 2007, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the sponsor of this year’s bill, added an amendment to a Financial Services appropriations bill that placed a one-year moratorium on reinstatement of the ‘Fairness Doctrine.; The amendment passed with 309 votes, including 113 Democrats.

President Barack Obama has said he does not favor reinstituting the ‘Censorship Doctrine,’ but he has expressed support for ‘local control’ boards and other Federal Communications Commission regulations that might have a similar chilling effect on speech in broadcast media. Obama will play a role in this debate by appointing new FCC members in the coming months.

UPDATE:  Congressman Steve King's staff sends a news release, weighing in on this:

King: Sen. Harkin Supports Media Censorship

“Does Rush Limbaugh intimidate Senator Harkin so much that he wants to ration free speech?”

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Congressman Steve King today made the following statement in response to comments by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) on The Bill Press Show supporting the reinstatement of the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.” .

“It is incredible that in today’s modern media age, where information is easily accessible in so many different forms, Tom Harkin wants to squelch your First Amendment rights in favor of Chinese-style censorship,” King said. “Does Rush Limbaugh intimidate Senator Harkin so much that he wants to ration free speech? Allowing the government, run by liberals, to control broadcast journalism and determine what on-air content is and is not ‘fair’ will stifle our free speech and hurt our free flow of information.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. I am curious how Congressman King knows so much about the “Chinese-style censorship??? It is curious also that hearing both sides of an issue is censorship of any kind. I can only conclude that the right wing is apposed the the truth being heard nest to there rhetoric…