Senate Passes Ethics Reform With Republican Amendment by 96-2 margin

Some good news out of the Senate!

This one affects me personally.

From The Washington Times:

The Senate last night also voted 55-43 to adopt a Republican amendment that deleted a provision of the ethics bill that would have expanded the definition of lobbyist to include grass-roots organizers, possibly including ministers and neighborhood groups.

Under the legislation, grass-roots organizations that attempt to “influence the general public” to contact members of Congress would have to register as lobbyists and file financial reports — or face a $200,000 fine.

Democrats had fought unsuccessfully to keep the provision in the bill.

Now to keep an eye on the Media Ownership Reform Act

From The CATO Institute:

The (Un)Fairness Doctrine. The so-called Fairness Doctrine was put in place by the FCC in 1949 to require broadcasters to “afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of public importance.” After coming under attack by the courts, the FCC discarded the rule in 1987 because, contrary to its purpose, the doctrine failed to encourage the discussion of more controversial issues. Still, regulatory revisionists seem to pretend that the world would be a better place if government officials sat in judgment of “fairness” on the broadcast airwaves and have attempted to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine a few times since it was abolished. By requiring, under threat of potential license revocation, that broadcasters “fairly” represent both sides of a given issue, advocates of the doctrine argue that more opinions will be aired while the editorial content of the station can remain unaltered.

But the notion that the threat of regulation will encourage a greater diversity of viewpoints has been flatly contradicted by the facts. After decades of academic and judicial scrutiny, it was revealed that instead of expanding the range of viewpoints on the airwaves, the Fairness Doctrine had a chilling effect on free speech. With the threat of potential FCC retaliation hanging over their necks, most broadcasters were more reluctant to air controversial opinions because it might require them to air alternative perspectives that their audience did not want to hear. Alternatively, they feared they would not be able to air enough, or the right type of, responses to make regulators happy. Consequently, the Fairness Doctrine actually stifled the growth of disseminating views and, in effect, made free speech less free. As the FCC noted in repealing the doctrine in 1987, it “had the net effect of reducing, rather than enhancing, the discussion of controversial issues of public importance.”

More disturbingly, the Fairness Doctrine was used by public officials to threaten suppression of political opposition. Communications scholar Thomas Hazlett has noted that under the Nixon administration, “License harassment of stations considered unfriendly to the administration became a regular item on the agenda at White House policy meetings,” and that “in an attempt to affect network programming, administration staffers used threats of Fairness Doctrine challenges in meetings and phone calls with top [network] executives.” There is also evidence that the Kennedy administration used the Fairness Doctrine to intimidate opponents.

Finally, practically speaking, how would a revived Fairness Doctrine apply to today’s media marketplace with its countless partisan radio and TV programs? Presumably Al Franken and his colleagues would not take kindly to the proposition that Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly are entitled to equal response time on their liberal Air America network in the name of “fairness.” And vice versa. Such partisan talk shows have become wildly popular in the years following the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine. Aren’t these exactly the sort of distinct and antagonistic viewpoints that policymakers desire?

Apparently not. As the previous TechKnowledge noted, recent debates over media ownership and indecency regulation on Capitol Hill have illustrated “that what Congress wants is a media obedient to its will,” in the words of a recent Broadcasting & Cable editorial. What media critics like Representative Hinchey propose is for government to exert more control over media in America in the name of expanding choice and “preserving democracy.”

If that sounds hopelessly contradictory or even downright dangerous, it should. The First Amendment was not written as a constraint on private speech or actions, but rather as a direct restraint on government actions as they relate to speech. But media critics like Hinchey are fond of contorting the First Amendment into the equivalent of an affirmative “media access” mandate that requires anyone who has a built a soapbox to let the rest of the world stand on it with them. That means government officials will have to sit in judgment of what is “fair” and determine when certain groups are allowed to co-opt others’ property for their own purposes. It is impossible to reconcile such notions with a faithful reading of the First Amendment or the principles of a free society.

If anyone still doesn’t think the Democrat party is a power hungry socialist machine, this should prove it. Trying to exert control over the media and free political speech is always the first move a government makes when it is trying to seize power. I guess they are taking their moves from their buddy Hugo Chavez.

Who are they trying to silence? Well, that pesky Conservative Talk Radio of course. Of course, it would not succeed because of the internet. Where you can read blogs and listen to internet talk radio, which would not be covered under this bill. However, if they were to succeed in this endeavor, you know they would be coming for the internet next.

One Response

  1. I think ethics reform in the Congress is important, but I would argue that the 17th amendment has increased the likelihood of such lapses. If you are interested in this, pls see http://euandus3.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/the-u-s-senate-what-is-it-really/

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