Thanks to a little-noticed item in the Federal Register, the Federal Communications Commission may soon be handed the power to drive Rush Limbaugh off the air.
There are liberals obsessed with “balancing” Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewitt, Mark Levin, and the rest of conservative talk radio, even though plenty of other outlets — the Washington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio — constantly flog the liberal agenda.
The “Hush Rush” crowd’s dream has been to revive the so-called “Fairness Doctrine,” which once required any radio station airing a conservative program to provide equal time for the liberal view. The doctrine’s advocates have tried using the democratic process, but to no avail whatsoever: In 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected the latest effort 309 to 115.
Yet regulations proposed on January 28 by the Federal Communications Commission would effectively reinstate the Fairness Doctrine via something called “localism.” This is legislation by stealth — most of the Fairness Doctrine’s opponents might not know about it until it’s too late. All opportunity for public comment on FCC’s proposal ceases on June 11, 2008.
Which isn’t to say it was impossible to see this coming. The Left has long sought new ways of bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, and their latest gambit features a sizable dose of political correctness.
In 2007, the Center for American Progress issued a report, “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio,” that cleverly recasts the Fairness Doctrine as “localism” by stating that “any effort to encourage more responsive and balanced radio programming will first require steps to increase localism.”
The center’s report also urged quotas by race and sex for radio-station ownership, because a survey of all “10,506 licensed commercial radio stations reveals that stations owned by women, minorities, or local owners are statistically less likely to air conservative hosts or shows.”
The FCC has swallowed the center’s diversity rationale whole. The FCC’s proposed regulations claim that radio station “programming — particularly network programming — often is not sufficiently culturally diverse.” There appears to be an assumption at the FCC that each and every radio station, rather than the radio market as a whole, must embody cultural diversity.
What does “cultural diversity” mean in practice? One witness at an FCC localism hearing actually complained that a “population of 60,000 Somali Americans” in Minneapolis-St. Paul were forced to get by with a mere “10 regularly-produced TV series on vocational training, acculturation, health education and other topics of vital importance” accounting for “approximately 20 hours of programming a week . . . because the community is not deemed to be a viable market.”
This cultural diversity is to be enforced by professional ethnic activists and other perpetual malcontents: All “licensees should convene and consult with permanent advisory boards.” These advisory boards “should include representatives of all segments of the community.”
(The FCC has not been specific enough for the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, which insists, “Broadcasters must reach beyond the business sector and look for leaders in the civic, religious, and non-profit sectors that regularly serve the needs of the community, particularly the needs of minority groups that are typically poorly served by the broadcasting industry as a whole.”)
Radio-station managers know that their job security is endangered by anything that might conceivably cause trouble for the station owners who employ them. Also, those purporting to represent minority interests often take political correctness to new levels. Think of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), whose touchiness is already legendary — what would such a group do if legally guaranteed influence over radio programming? CAIR has equally touchy affiliates in 19 states.
Should the FCC prevail, radio stations will return to the sort of programming that predominated during the days of the Fairness Doctrine, only filtered by 2008-style political correctness. Instead of full debate on controversial issues such as amnesty for illegal aliens, AM radio will become a herd of independent minds, a vast “Air America” from sea to shining sea in which never a conservative word is heard.
The FCC’s regulations are so far along that the Bush administration’s proposed rule-making moratorium will not stop them.
Congress could pass a resolution of disapproval. Or, President Bush might ask the FCC to find other things to occupy its time.