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Freedom of speech. It is our most cherished privilege as Americans, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution since 1791. But at the dawn of a new presidential administration, an epic battle is looming -- a battle for our airwaves that could sharply curtail or silence altogether the freedom of expression that distinguishes America from the average dictatorship. The target of this battle is conservative talk radio.
If key Democrats have their way, the principles of the Federal Communications Commission's Fairness Doctrine will once again be enforced and allow government to control the content heard on free radio, a mandate that will have far-reaching implications for all media.
During the Reagan administration the FCC voted to stop enforcing the Fairness Doctrine, which required all licensed broadcasters to present "balanced" viewpoints on controversial issues.
Conservative talk radio burgeoned, giving rise to the father of conservative talk, Rush Limbaugh, and such hosts as Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Michael Medved, Neal Boortz, Laura Ingraham, and others. The format was a smash hit -- resonating with listeners from coast to coast and giving a powerful voice to the conservative movement. Soon such programming, attracting an estimated 50 million listeners weekly, dominated the airwaves where liberal talk radio failed. Popular, profitable, outspoken, powerful, influential -- it's what the American people wanted, and its success was the Democrats' worst nightmare.
Now, the principles of the Fairness Doctrine threaten to be reinstated -- if not directly, then through back-door tactics involving ownership of stations. Under cover of being "fair," they will prove to be anything but: They will be used as a means of censorship by those with contempt for conservative talk radio. With our current Congress firmly under Democratic control, the future of talk radio -- indeed, freedom of speech for all Americans -- is under direct attack.
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