THERE'S AT LEAST some temporary good news for Americans who believe that broadcast journalism should be responsive as well as responsible -- and not controlled by government specifications of what the news of the day is to include. Yesterday the Senate avoided a direct vote to overturn President Reagan's veto of the misnamed and harmful "fairness doctrine." Instead, the bill was referred back to committee, where the chairman, Sen. Ernest Hollings, will figure out what to do next. Though the proposal may now wind up neatly tacked to a veto-proof bill, maybe at least some members of Congress will reconsider the wisdom of supporting this unnecessary control of news content.
The truth is -- and some members of Congress may have preferred not to deal with it up to now -- that there is no "fairness" whatever in the "fairness" doctrine.
On the contrary, it is a chilling federal attempt to compel some undefined "balance" of what ideas radio and television news programs are to include. However bad or unfair today's news may seem on occasion, do people really want government to step in as judge? Members of Congress who care about genuinely fair coverage of views should abandon the congressional effort, which is based on an outdated concept of limited airwaves. As we note each time we address this subject, our views do come from an organization with a direct interest in broadcasting. But they stem from a belief that the "fairness doctrine" undercuts free, independent, sound and responsive journalism -- substituting governmental dictates. That is deceptive, dangerous and, in a democracy, repulsive. For now, at least, Congress has a chance to back off. The best way would be to let the measure rest in peace on a committee shelf