Commissioner Pai Praises FCC Decision to Protect Free Speech

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai praised a recent decision by his agency to defend free speech on the airwaves, ending the Fairness Doctrine for good.

Pai, who exposed the FCC’s plans to "police the newsroom" this spring, is now shining light on a little known policy called the Zapple Doctrine, a byproduct of the Fairness Doctrine that demanded equal time when campaign spokespersons appeared on radio and television.

Pai penned an editorial on Friday celebrating a decision to officially end the policy, but warned that the fight to protect the First Amendment is never over.

"In another defining moment for the First Amendment, the FCC stood firm earlier this month and rejected a demand to shut down two Wisconsin radio stations," Pai wrote. "The stations’ alleged crimes? Their hosts and guests made too many favorable comments about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker during his 2012 recall campaign and didn’t say enough nice things about his Democratic opponent. That’s right; for this reason and this reason alone, petitioners urged the FCC to banish these stations from the airwaves."

Opponents attempted to use the doctrine named after Nicholas Zapple, a one-time counsel to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee who asked the FCC if the Fairness Doctrine applied to spokesmen and supporters of candidates when they appeared on air. The FCC then extended the policy.

When the Fairness Doctrine was repealed in 1987, the FCC was silent on Zapple, allowing Walker’s opponents to use the policy against him. However, earlier this month, the FCC rejected their request.

"The Commission emphatically stated that there is ‘no basis to enforce the Zapple Doctrine,’" Pai said.  "If the marketplace of 1987 was diverse enough that the Fairness Doctrine was no longer justified, there is no way that the Zapple Doctrine could survive in today’s marketplace—a marketplace in which countless viewpoints are only a tweet or blog post away."

"Today’s market-motivated diversity is something to celebrate for those who cherish core constitutional freedoms," he said.

"The end of the Zapple Doctrine presents an important lesson: There will always be someone eager to manipulate the levers of government to serve a political end," Pai added.  "It is our responsibility to stand against such efforts and the tactics of political intimidation. We must continue to reject attempts to micromanage the marketplace of ideas and limit media choices."

"We must continue to empower consumers to make their own decisions and give news outlets the flexibility to make their own editorial judgments," he said.  "And we must always stand up for the First Amendment—even when, especially when, it’s ‘controversial.'"