Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin told Cybercast News Service that Obama and a Democrat dominated Congress will likely not be able to impose the Fairness Doctrine on talk radio. “It’s increasingly difficult to try and put quotas on political speech over any medium, so I think that would be the challenge anyone would face if they wanted to try and do that,” Cardin said on November 4 at the Democratic Senatorial Committee election night party.
Cardin admitted imposing the doctrine is virtually impossible and pointless due to advances in technology. “I can’t speak for all my colleagues on that issue,” said Cardin. “I can only say that I think technology has possibly moved beyond the ability to regulate things, at least as it stands now.”
Since the creation of the Fairness Doctrine in 1949, communications technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. In addition to unregulated low-power transmitters, popularly known as microbroadcasting, radio programming has proliferated over the last few years on the internet. Digital audio content and streaming media is now freely available and as Cardin eludes it would be very difficult to impose the Fairness Doctrine on this media. SHOUTcast technology makes it possible to inexpensively set up an internet broadcasting station and this medium is not currently regulated by the FCC.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said that talk radio content does not need to be “fair and balanced,” adding that the Fairness Doctrine is a difficult issue for Barack Obama and the new Democratic Congress to deal with because of today’s diversified media. “I think it’s increasingly difficult, because it’s kind of like a balloon,” said Van Hollen. “In other words, even if you wanted to go there – and I’m not saying we do – but if you wanted to go there, when you squeeze one end of the balloon, you know, simply the conversation can just go to others. I think even if you wanted to go back to the Fairness Doctrine, technology may have passed it by.”
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Government and corporations, however, are attempting to censor media content on the internet through filtering and bandwidth limitations. The Australian Communications and Media Authority has announced a plan to blacklist “unwanted content” and “offensive and illegal material” by constructing a firewall similar to the one used in communist China. Britain, Sweden, Canada, and New Zealand have devised similar schemes, although the filtering at this point is limited to child pornography, not political content.
Internet ISPs and telecoms such as AT&T, Comcast, and Time-Warner are currently implementing bandwidth caps aimed at video and audio content, citing overloaded capacity. However, according to Derek Turner, research director of the advocacy group Free Press, if there were a looming shortage, most carriers would have already imposed tiered pricing or explicit caps. More likely, these corporations will attempt to limit the sort of content available and direct customers to their own branded content.
According to senator Cardin, imposing the Fairness Doctrine on talk radio will likely not be on the agenda when the new Congress convenes. “As far as I know, it will not be the first order of business, if it’s ever part of the agenda,” he said.
Cardin’s comment is at odds with other Democrats, most notably New York Democrat Senator Charles Schumer who has promised to reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine. Schumer told Fox News it was “consistent” to use the same power of the federal government currently used to regulate broadcast indecency also to regulate the free speech rights of “politically incorrect” broadcasters.
Mr. Schumer apparently is not up to speed on the latest technology and the fact much of the talk radio he apparently deplores is available on the internet. During the Fox interview, he said there is a difference between radio or television broadcast over the public airwaves and a private medium, such as streamed media over the internet or a printing press. “This is not like printing a broadside,” said Schumer. “You would never say that anyone who wanted to hire a printing press or go on a computer has to have any [political] view.”