The debate over the Fairness Doctrine continued in the Senate today, as Dick Durbin blocked Norm Coleman from offering an amendment that would forbid content control in political speech on the airwaves. Coleman and Durbin then got into a series of volleys on the nature of speech and broadcast licensing, which capsulizes the differing approaches to freedom between the two parties:
Mr. Durbin: I’m sorry to interrupt you but I really wish that through the commerce committee or the appropriate committee of jurisdiction, we can really get into this question. But the senator is arguing that the marketplace can provide. What is the senator’s response if the marketplace fails to provide? What is the marketplace does not provide opportunities to hear both points of view? Since the people who are seeking the licenses are using America’s airwaves, does the government, speaking for the people of this country, have any interest at that point to step in and make sure there is a despair balanced approach to the –a fair and balanced approach to the information given to the American people?
Mr. Coleman: Mr. President, I’ll respond to the final question here. Very clear disagreement here. The government does not — does not — have the responsibility to regulate content of speech. That’s what the first amendment is about. It’s exactly what the first amendment is about. Government’s not supposed to be regulating content. And in a time in 1949 when you had three network TV stations, basically, when had you limited channels of communication, I presume there was a legitimate concern on the part of some that, in fact, government needs to step in and ensure balance. But now we’re in 2007. We’re at a time where we’ve got 20,000, you know, opportunities for stations and satellite, where you have cable, you have blogs, you have a whole range of information. I think it would be — I — I can’t even conceive — I can’t even conceive that the market could not provide opportunities for differing positions because it does. And in the end — in the end, consumers also have a right based on the market to make choices. And so if they make choices that say we want to hear more of one side than the other, that’s ok okay. And I think it’s very dangerous, I say to my — my friend from Illinois, I think it’s very dangerous for government to be in the position of deciding what’s fair and balanced. Because as we see on the floor of the senate, oftentimes amongst ourselves, learned — hopefully learned individuals who’ve the great humble opportunity to serve in the US Senate, we have differences as to what is fair and balanced. And so the reason I think we have a First Amendment is that we get government out of — out of the — the measuring, controlling, dictating, regulating content and that’s my concern. …
John Kennedy stated, “we are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” Mr. President, I’m not afraid of of — of the people. I’m not afraid of the people having access to the in information, ideas that they want to have access to. But I am afraid of the government stepping in and regulating content. We have a first amendment. That’s the underpinning, the foundation of all the other amendments. The fairness doctrine flies in the face of that. It was rejected. It was rejected in 1987. The idea of bringing it back today is a very, very bad idea. This amendment specifically includes the Armed forces network. Our folks are out there on the front line fighting. They should be able to tune into whatever they want to tune into and they shouldn’t be thinking that back home someone at the FCC is listening and monitoring and deciding what is fair and what is balanced. Let the people decide. Let the market decide. Let the first amendment flourish.
Mr. President, with that, I yield the floor.
The effort to bring back the Fairness Doctrine is entirely about fear. Durbin and his associates are afraid that they have lost the debate, and they want to shut down the forum rather than acknowledge it. Either that, or Durbin and Barbara Boxer and anyone else who wants the government to dictate the content of political speech think you’re too stupid to find differing points of view.
The Fairness Doctrine never made any sense at any time, but today’s communications market make it especially inappropriate. We have millions of Americans debating issues on the Internet at places like Captain’s Quarters. News sources from around the world can be accessed within seconds (or minutes, if you’re stuck on dial-up). Talk radio occupies a small niche in a cornucopia of information sources.
Anyone who claims that Americans can’t access all sides on an issue is either being deliberately disingenuous or is hopelessly obtuse. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which applies to Dick Durbin. In the meantime, kudos to Norm Coleman for staying on top of this assault on free political speech.
UPDATE: Here’s the NRSC site opposing the Fairness Doctrine, called Stop Liberal Censorship. Be sure to keep up with FD news and information at that site — and a big welcome to Instapundit readers.