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Is the Tyranny of Right-Wing Radio Coming to an End?

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Conservative fears of an impending Democratic attack on talk radio - dubbed the "Hush Rush" effort in an homage to top-rated radio talker Rush Limbaugh -- continue to escalate, despite ample evidence that such an assault is unlikely to occur when (as is likely) Democrats sweep back into power in the forthcoming elections in November.

As noted recently on the "Focus on the Family action" website citizenlink.com, conservative fears of a supposed return to the Federal Communications Commission's long-defunct Fairness Doctrine remain unabated. In a post entitled "Take Action: Ask Congress to Protect Talk Radio," Managing Editor Jennifer Mesko recently wrote, "Democrats have threatened to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine which would force conservative stations to broadcast liberal viewpoints."

In response, says Mesko, "Radio broadcasters and some members of Congress are calling on Democrats to celebrate July Fourth -- dubbed "Radio Independence Day" -- by pledging to protect the airwaves from censorship."

As previously reported, "Leading hard-right conservatives, led by their talk radio 'shock jock' shock troops, have been worrying aloud about the supposed return of the long-defunct Fairness Doctrine ever since their stunning success last year in defeating bi-partisan immigration reform."

Although most informed observers believe the right's existential angst is unfounded, it is nonetheless real -- and has spurred former broadcaster and current congressman Mike Pence, R-Ind., to introduce the Broadcaster Freedom Act (H.R. 2905), which would prohibit the FCC from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. "Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine would amount to government control of political views on the commercial and religious airwaves of America, and it must be opposed," Pence told Family News in Focus, while calling on Congress to support the Broadcaster Freedom Act before July Fourth. Shock jock Laura Ingraham joined Pence, saying, "This is nothing more than an attempt to have government regulate one of the most effective forms of political discussion today."

Of course, only a year ago more than three hundred members of Congress -- including 113 Democrats -- supported a moratorium on the Fairness Doctrine!

Meanwhile, other conservatives, such as Jim Boulet Jr., executive director of English First and organizer of the website KeepRushontheAir.com are claiming that the cunning (if Republican-controlled) FCC -- employing a little known tactic Boulet terms "legislation by stealth" -- may instead "reinstate the Fairness Doctrine via something called 'localism.'"

In a National Review Online post headlined "FCC Tries to Hush Rush," Boulet assails the "tyranny of 'cultural diversity' while citing "a little-noticed item in the Federal Register" he claims will soon hand the FCC "the power to drive Rush Limbaugh off the air."

Liberals are obsessed with "balancing" Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewitt, Mark Levin, and the rest of conservative talk radio, says Boulet, "even though plenty of other outlets -- the Washington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio -- constantly flog the liberal agenda." And since the "Hush Rush crowd's dream" to revive the so-called "Fairness Doctrine … using the democratic process," has failed, Boulet says, "regulations proposed on January 28 by the Federal Communications Commission would effectively reinstate the Fairness Doctrine via something called 'localism.'"

This "legislation by stealth" means that "most of the Fairness Doctrine's opponents might not know about it until it's too late," says Boulet. "Which isn't to say it was impossible to see this coming. The Left has long sought new ways of bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, and their latest gambit features a sizable dose of political correctness."

Right-wingers like Boulet charge that a 2007 Center for American Progress/Free Press report called The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio "cleverly recasts the Fairness Doctrine as 'localism' by stating that 'any effort to encourage more responsive and balanced radio programming will first require steps to increase localism.'"

Boulet apparently believes the FCC "has swallowed the Center's diversity rationale whole" and that "cultural diversity" requirements will soon be imposed that will have the effect of knocking Rush Limbaugh and his ilk off the air. "This cultural diversity is to be enforced by professional ethnic activists and other perpetual malcontents," claims Boulet.

As a result, he opines, "Should the FCC prevail, radio stations will return to the sort of programming that predominated during the days of the Fairness Doctrine, only filtered by 2008-style political correctness. Instead of full debate on controversial issues such as amnesty for illegal aliens, AM radio will become a herd of independent minds, a vast "Air America" from sea to shining sea in which never a conservative word is heard."

Although this putative threat to the First Amendment simply isn't real, the notion that the days of right-wing dominance of the airwaves may well be numbered is rapidly becoming a reality -- not because of any government-imposed regulation, but simply because the political tide appears to be turning at last, and our long national nightmare may in fact be drawing to a close.

Happy "Radio Independence Day," everyone!
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Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor writes the 'Media Is A Plural' blog, accessible at www.roryoconnor.org.
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