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FCC sidesteps explanation on controversial plan to ‘interfere with news stations’



FCC sidesteps explanation on controversial plan to ‘interfere with news stations’

The US Federal Communications Commission announced it will pull back from an unpopular plan that proposed placing a federal agent inside newsrooms across the country, prompting media watchdogs to accuse the government of trying to restrict press freedom.

The FCC first announced the plan, known as the ‘Multi-Market  Study of Critical Information Needs,’ (CIN) last year. It  presented vague notions about how FCC officials would observe   “the process by which stories are selected,” including  notions of “perceived station bias” and “perceived  responsiveness to underserved populations.”

Ajit Pai, commissioner of the FCC, wrote an editorial for The  Wall Street Journal earlier this month complaining that his own  agency was planning to “send researchers to grill reporters,  editors, and station owners about how they decide which stories  to run.”

But everyone should agree on this: The government has no  place pressuring media organizations into covering certain  issues,” he wrote.

Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission, where  I am commissioner, does not agree. Last May the FCC proposed an  initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across  the country…a field test in Columbia, South Carolina, is  scheduled to begin this spring.”

Other condemnations came swiftly from across the political  spectrum. At least one petition quickly went viral, attracting  over 50,000 signatures in just a few days. Howard Kurtz, a media  critic for Fox News, wrote this week that the government putting  employees inside newsrooms was a step too far.

Keep in mind that the commission has the power to renew or  reject broadcast television licenses,” he said. “During  Watergate, Richard Nixon’s FCC challenged two TV licenses of  stations owned by the Washington Post. So mere information can  become a little more serious, given that enormous clout.”

Thomas Wheeler (AFP Photo / T.J. Kirkpatrick)Thomas Wheeler (AFP Photo / T.J. Kirkpatrick)


In response to the controversy FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told a  group of Republican lawmakers that the agency has “no  intention” of involving itself with the news selection  process at broadcast, print, or digital outlets. A number of  politicians in the GOP have come forward to accuse the FCC of  violating the First Amendment, which protects freedom of the  press.

The commission has no intention of regulating political or  other speech of journalists or broadcasters by way of this  research design, any resulting study, or through any other  means,” Wheeler wrote, as quoted by Ad Week magazine.

The announcement did not include mention of whether the FCC still  plans to research why journalists, producers, and editors made  the decisions they did – another controversial aspect of the CIN.

We are pleased to see Chairman Wheeler recognizes the  gravity of our concerns and has accordingly made progress toward  ensuring that First Amendment protections remain in place for  journalists,” said Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of  the commerce committee, and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the  communications and technology subcommittee, in response to  Wheeler.

Before moving forward, however, it is imperative that the  FCC ensure that any study, with any agents on its behalf, stays  out of newsrooms.”