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Protecting Free Speech

February 20, 2009

While Americans are rightly proud of all the liberties we have secured through our Constitution and Bill of Rights, few freedoms are more cherished than that of free speech. We are all entitled to our own opinions, and I do not believe that the government should stand in the way of our right to express them, even if those opinions run counter to the prevailing political winds.

In 1949, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) implemented a policy known as the Fairness Doctrine. This policy required individual broadcasters to restrict their coverage of political subject matters unless contrasting ideological positions were included in the broadcast. However, in 1985, the FCC ended the Fairness Doctrine because it was determined that there was enough diversity of opinion in the marketplace to give Americans equal opportunity to debate issues.

I believe that diversity of opinion today is stronger than ever as new mediums for expression are made available. Traditional media such as television, radio, magazines, and newspapers are still important outlets for news and opinion, but the rise of the Internet has given Americans, and people all over the world, a new forum for self-expression and debate.

There are some members of Congress who have called for the reinstatement of the so-called Fairness Doctrine for talk radio and even some who want it applied to the Internet. I believe that the marketplace of ideas only operates for the benefit of citizens if it is just that: a true marketplace. People have the opportunity to seek out what radio programs they want to listen to, just as they have the freedom to read particular newspapers and magazines, watch particular news television programs, and increasingly, seek out news and opinion on the Internet.

I believe it is dangerous for Congress and federal regulators to wade into the public airwaves to determine what opinions should be expressed and what kind of speech is "fair." This undercuts every American's freedom of speech, and I urge my colleagues to reject any renewed institution of the Fairness Doctrine, which is nothing more than government controlled censorship.

President Obama has indicated that he is opposed to reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine, and I applaud him for finally taking this position. I will continue working with my colleagues to ensure that public airwaves remain a resource for free speech and debate.
People all over the globe are communicating with each other in new and exciting ways, and technology is introducing the freedom of speech we enjoy to places where it was foreign before. At a time when free expression is enjoying such a global boom, it would be wrong for the American government to restrict one of our most basic rights.