Fairness Doctrine Law Makes Progress In Congress, But Veto Threatened
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Efforts to reinstate the fairness doctrine for broadcasters are moving forward in Congress, with another endorsement by the full House and approval by a Senate committee.
But critics say Thursday’s House vote attaching a fairness amendment to a $587 billion spending bill invites a presidential veto of the omnibus package and could put the operations of the government in jeopardy.
″The fairness doctrine all by itself is prime veto bait,″ said Rep. Silvio O. Conte, R-Mass.
Advocates of the doctrine, however, argued it was vital to protect the First Amendment rights of Americans by assuring that broadcasters cover controversial issues and air divergent views.
″We are not breaking new ground here,″ said Rep. Edward J. Markey, D- Mass., noting that the policy had been in effect for 38 years before the Federal Communications Commission abolished it in August.
″This was meant to protect minority points of view. That’s why Phyllis Schlafly and Ralph Nader both support it,″ he said of the noted conservative and liberal activists. ″There is no more fundamental protection we can offer Americans.″
The House and Senate last spring passed a bill to write the policy into law, but President Reagan vetoed it on June 20. The FCC voted Aug. 4 to scrap the doctrine, saying it gave the government an unconstitutional measure of editorial control over broadcast newsrooms and chilled radio and television coverage of important issues.
Opponents of the doctrine argued on the House floor that the amendment was inappropriate to the spending bill because it had nothing to do with budget issues and faces no urgency.
″There is no evidence the nation has suffered because the fairness doctrine hasn’t been with us for the last few months,″ said Rep. Thomas J. Tauke, R-Iowa.
Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said the amendment was ″holding hostage the entire government of the United States ... and will send more confusing signals to the financial markets.″
The spending bill still will require action by the Senate, where fairness doctrine advocates have been moving on another track to have the policy written into the law.
The Senate Budget Committee sent legislation to the full Senate that would codify the doctrine and impose a 2 percent tax on the sellers of television and radio stations. Some of the money collected would go into a new federal fund for public broadcasting.
Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., and several other lawmakers said they would attempt to kill the fairness doctrine language when the bill is debated on the Senate floor.
The provisions are part of a $12 billion tax bill. Congressional leaders intend to amend the bill when it is considered on the floor to make it conform with the deficit-reduction package they agreed to last month with the White House.