On January 26, she introduced the Fairness and Accountability in Broadcasting Act, or FAB, which would revive the Doctrine with new licensing requirements for broadcasters. Rescinded in 1987 by the Federal Communications Commission, the original doctrine made sure that radio and television broadcasters covered political topics with fairness and balance.
It ran afoul of a powerful broadcast lobby, that worked over an industry-friendly Reagan administration, tucked their bottom-line motivations behind First Amendment rhetoric and killed the fairness rule. To be sure, there are some legitimate concerns about free speech that need to be addressed if Slaughter's FAB is to succeed, but it might have more than a fighting chance if she and her cohorts play the public interest card right, by reaching out to grassroots and mobilizing multi-partisan support from the bottom up.
The success of the Reagan administration in overturning the Fairness Doctrine ushered in a new age of talk radio, writes Eric Boehlert, "allowing stations to broadcast one political point of view day after day, week after week. As (Democratic Congressman Maurice) Hinchey and others point out, talk radio has spurred a rightward tilt of the press." Since 1987, Washington's media lobby has further consolidated their hold on the capital, aided by hundreds of millions of industry dollars from media colossi such as General Electric, Viacom and News Corp.
Three Congressional attempts to reinstate the doctrine since 1987 died at the hands of vetoing presidents, pliant lawmakers, arm-twisting lobbyists and, in 1993, by the demagoguery of radio Icarus Rush Limbaugh, eager to scuttle any rule that would require him to look beyond his own nose for content. This time around, the same forces are lining up to bulldoze Slaughter's FAB.
While the Congresswoman and her allies face long odds, indeed, they're not just tilting at windmills. The media lobby may have underestimated those newly empowered media citizens beyond the Beltway -- the same Americans who came out en masse to protest the FCC's clandestine effort to relax the media ownership rules in 2003. A well orchestrated grassroots campaign -- employing local hearings, email campaigns and viral online organizing -- might succeed where Washington has failed, and break the industry's DC headlock on this issue.
To learn more about becoming involved, visit www.fairnessdoctrine.com, a project involving MediaChannel.org coalition partner Media Access Project.