Why Christian Radio's Nervous Over Fairness Doctrine Despite Today's Senate Ban

Christian broadcasters say the Fairness Doctrine would force them to broadcast unchristian viewpoints.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

My most recent God & Country column for the new digital U.S. News weekly explains why Christian broadcasters fear the return of the Fairness Doctrine—or something like it—even more than other broadcasters. You can read the column here. The Senate has passed a Fairness Doctrine ban today, but the measure is mostly beside the point in the view of Fairness Doctrine fans and foes. From my column:

Democrats, though, say reports of the fairness doctrine's second coming have been exaggerated by conservative opinion shapers looking to stir up their base. (Privately, some conservative activists acknowledge that the threat appears remote.) The anti-fairness doctrine campaign, liberals allege, is intended to tarnish other proposals aimed at bringing ideological balance to the airwaves, which are publicly owned and which the Communications Act of 1934 require "to operate in the public interest." A recent report on the subject by the liberal Center for American Progress recommended restoring ownership caps on stations, expanding the role for local listeners in radio licensing, and charging fees to stations that shirk public interest obligations. "No one is advocating a return to the fairness doctrine," says John Halpin, one of the report's authors. "We have no interest in taking anyone off the air."

The report found that 91 percent of weekday talk radio on the top five news/talk chains is conservative. Rather than censor those voices, Halpin says he wants to add more viewpoints to radio, especially local ones, including churches.

But religious broadcasters call such proposals a "stealth fairness doctrine." The public interest, they say, is best served by treating radio and television waves as a free market, where competing opinions vie for audience share. "It's dangerous to wrest control from station managers and put it in the hands of a few Washington bureaucrats," says National Religious Broadcasters general counsel Craig Parshall.

And here's why Christian broadcasters are especially wary of the Fairness Doctrine, and of what Rep. Mike Pence deems is a "stealth fairness doctrine":

Though most secular commercial broadcasters also oppose reinstating the fairness doctrine, Christian stations are more sensitive to the issue because they say it would force them to carry views they consider unbiblical, like the legitimacy of other religions or liberal stances on social issues. "The revival of the fairness doctrine is an existential threat to Christian radio," says Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican and a former talk radio host who has introduced a bill that would permanently bar the fairness doctrine. "Requiring Christian stations to carry competing worldviews on issues like marriage and sanctity of life—these stations are ministries, and it's not something they're prepared to do."