FIRST OFF . . .
A Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would write into law the so-called “fairness doctrine” that the Federal Communications Commission repealed in 1987. The bill would require broadcasters to air opposing views on controversial issues. It is virtually identical to a measure passed by Congress in 1987 but vetoed by President Reagan. When the FCC overturned the fairness doctrine, it cited First Amendment concerns and said the rules were outdated. The doctrine came about in the 1940s on the premise that broadcasters should be required to be fair because only a few “voices” had access to public airwaves. But critics today contend there is no shortage of voices in this era of cable TV, satellites and VCRs. Broadcasters claim the doctrine exerts a “chilling effect” on discussions of controversial issues and is unconstitutional. But the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), thinks the need for such legislation is greater than ever. He said there is evidence that broadcasters have been devoting less time to controversial issues since the FCC repealed the doctrine. The bill was sent to the full Senate on a voice vote by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. A companion measure was passed out of committee April 11 to the House, where it is awaiting floor action.