The House yesterday easily enacted legislation opposed by the Reagan administration and broadcast industry directing the Federal Communications Commission to continue enforcing the "fairness doctrine" requiring broadcasters to present all sides of controversial public issues.
The standard, first adopted by the commission in 1949, was thought to have the force of law until last year when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FCC could repeal it without congressional approval.
The Senate approved identical legislation 59 to 31 on April 21, an indication that proponents might have difficulty mustering the 67 votes necessary to override a veto. The White House has not said whether President Reagan will veto the measure, but the administration opposed it as an outdated mechanism that inhibits free discussion and violates the freedoms of broadcast journalists.
Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) has begun an effort to line up enough votes to sustain a veto.
The House passed the measure 302 to 102 after easily defeating an amendment to exempt radio stations from the standard, which directs holders of federal broadcast licenses to air issues of public importance in a balanced manner. The doctrine does not require broadcasters to give equal time to opposing viewpoints, but does require them to afford a reasonable opportunity for their expression.
Supporters of the legislation, which included dozens of groups from across the ideological spectrum, argued that if Congress failed to write the standard into law, the FCC would repeal it, denying listeners and viewers access to a balance of views on issues of importance.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the subcommittee on telecommunications and finance, said, "Unlike newspapers, broadcasters use a scarce resource, and as long as they are granted exclusive use of that scarce resource, Congress should ensure that they do so in a fair manner."
But opponents said the standard is an anachronism because the proliferation of cable television outlets and other telecommunications media has vastly expanded access to information. They further contended that broadcasters are reluctant to air subjects of controversy knowing they may face lawsuits alleging partiality to a particular point of view.
With more than 10,000 radio stations, 1,300 television stations, 7,300 cable systems and 1.6 million television satellite dishes, asserted Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), "We don't need government to decide what the public should be watching."