Magazine article The Christian Century

Christian Broadcasters Nervous about Talk of Reviving Fairness Doctrine

Magazine article The Christian Century

Christian Broadcasters Nervous about Talk of Reviving Fairness Doctrine

Article excerpt

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been making Christian broadcasters nervous.

Pelosi (D., Calif.) said this summer that she supports resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine, a 1949 Federal Communications Commission policy that required broadcasters that communicated specific opinions to set aside time for opposing views.

Such a move would "really make it impossible to preach the whole counsel of God," said Rich Bott, the owner of Kansas-based Bott Radio Network, which broadcasts Christian programming across ten states. It would also, he said, likely put him out of business.

Put in place nearly 50 years ago, the doctrine was an FCC regulation that policed the airwaves at a time when there were few other sources of information. It never carried the full weight of the law. By the 1980s, with the advent of cable television and multiple opportunities to air differing opinions, the policy fell out of favor and was finally ditched by the FCC in 1987.

Although Pelosi hasn't offered legislation to reinstate the policy, she has signaled that she supports its revival, and said a bill introduced by House Republican Mike Spence of Indiana to permanently kill the policy will not be considered by the Democratic-controlled House.

If the Fairness Doctrine were to be reinstated by Congress, broadcasters would be legally forced to follow the old protocol: one-third of the airtime used to express one opinion must be offered free of charge to opponents.

"We've been in broadcasting for over 45 years, so we remember what it was like under the previous regime of the so-called Fairness Doctrine," Bott said. "What we had to do then would be impossible today."

A half-century ago, Christians were a distinct cultural and political majority and there were fewer dissenting views to accommodate. Numerically

they still hold sway but compete against large numbers of other faiths and points of view.

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"If someone were to assert that God has ordained marriage as only between a man and woman, that would be a controversial statement today," Bott said. "Someone will ask for time."

Such requests would place a unique strain on broadcasters, said William Van Alstyne, a constitutional law expert at the William and Mary School of Law in Williamsburg, Virginia. …

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