Fairness Doctrine Opponents Take on FCC Head

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Julius Genachowski, new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, marked his first day on the job this week.

The telecommunications executive worked on the Obama campaign, and is expected to help the FCC  bring more attention to new mobile and Internet technologies.

President Obama has said that expanding broadband access to rural parts of the U.S. is one of the top priorities he wants the group to tackle.

Critics, however, are concerned the FCC may also try to advance controversial policies like the Fairness Doctrine.

During his confirmation hearing, Genachowski said he does not support the Fairness Doctrine.  However, Seton Motley with the Media Research Center, told CBN News his organization is still concerned about the future of First Amendment and free speech rights.

Does the Fairness Doctrine offer balance to talk radio or stifle free speech?  It's a question that's created controversy since it was implemented in 1949.

The FCC abolished the doctrine in 1987, but some broadcasters fear pieces of the Fairness Doctrine are on the way back.

"If you let the government determine which speech is controversial and which isn't (or worse), if you let the political appointees in any particular government administration make those decisions, you're just setting up a framework for abuse," said Frank Wright of the National Religious Broadcasters.

Wright and leaders at the NRB are preparing for battle.  The association's 1,400 member stations fear a reinstatement of even portions of the doctrine would require Christian stations to present viewpoints from other religions --something they believe violates the First Amendment which guarantees the freedom of speech and religion.

"It's anything but the Fairness Doctrine. We call it the unfair doctrine," said GOP Sen. Jim DeMint.

Demint pushed legislation through the Senate that prohibits the return of the Fairness Doctrine. However, another amendment sponsored by assistant senate majority leader Dick Durbin is also being considered by the house.

It says the FCC shall encourage and promote diversity in communications media ownership and ensure broadcast licenses are used in the public interest.

Senate Democratic staffers say Durbin's language reaffirms longstanding policies. Demint doesn't buy it.

"For all we know diversity of ownership for a Christian station would mean atheists, muslims, people of all kinds of beliefs," he said.  "We just don't know."

Since it was never law to begin with, only a regulation, some who oppose the Fairness Doctrine believe the real fight will transpire at the FCC, an agency in transition with the new administration. 

Still others say cries over a Fairness Doctrine comeback are unwarranted.

Groups like the NRB aren't taking chances, spending lots of resources to ensure the Fairness Doctrine remains part of broadcast history.

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Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.