You may or may not remember it, but there was a time when the Federal Communications Commission regulated the content of talk radio. The FCC enforced what was called the Fairness Doctrine. It required stations to provide an opportunity for opposing views or political candidates to be heard. Though it was challenged all the way up to the Supreme Court and upheld, the FCC repealed its own regulation in 1985 under President Reagan.

As NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, there's now talk in Congress of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine much to the chagrin of some conservatives.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Mike Pence used to be a conservative talk show host. Now he's a member of Congress, a Republican from Indiana. Pence says there's nothing fair about the Fairness Doctrine.

Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, talk radio has emerged as a dynamic forum for public debate and an asset to the nation.

SEABROOK: Pence is introducing a bill he calls the Broadcaster Freedom Act. It would ban the FCC from reinstating the old regulation.

Rep. PENCE: Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine would amount to nothing more than government control over political views expressed on the public airwaves and it must not be allowed to occur.

SEABROOK: But wait. What is Pence protecting the people in airwaves from? There's no bill, no attempt so far to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Well, not yet.

There are a few people in Congress who've recently said they'd like to discuss the idea of equal opportunity for opposing viewpoints. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois is among them, also California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. He says this is not a case of Big Brother government trying to control broadcasters.

Senator BERNIE SANDERS (Independent, Vermont): When you own a newspaper, you can do anything you want. It's your newspaper, and that's what the Constitution is about. But when you have a radio or television network and when the airwaves are owned by the people, and when you got permission to use those airwaves from the FCC, there are obviously requirements.

LIASSON: Those requirements, Sanders says, should include some amount of balance in news and opinion programming.

Sen. SANDERS: In a nation that is politically divided, people in this country have a right to hear all points of view and not just a corporate right-wing point of view.

LIASSON: Now, it's no coincidence that conservative Mike Pence is stirring up a fight in defense of talk radio. A lot of talk radio programming has a conservative bent. And it's also no coincidence that relatively liberal Bernie Sanders would like to see more liberal-leaning talk radio.

What is surprising is the amount of hullabaloo and protestation being kicked up when nobody's made a move yet. Still, watch this space. Both sides promised they won't let this issue go away.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from