FCC riles conservatives with plan to study news needs

Broadcasting & Cable The Wall Street Journal | NewsBusters

Update: On Friday, the FCC issued a statement in reaction to a news and information needs study that had drawn criticism from Republicans:

Chairman [Tom] Wheeler agreed that survey questions in the study directed toward media outlet managers, news directors, and reporters overstepped the bounds of what is required. Last week, Chairman Wheeler informed lawmakers that [the] Commission has no intention of regulating political or other speech of journalists or broadcasters and would be modifying the draft study.

Yesterday, the Chairman directed that those questions be removed entirely.
“To be clear, media owners and journalists will no longer be asked to participate in the Columbia, S.C. pilot study. The pilot will not be undertaken until a new study design is final. Any subsequent market studies conducted by the FCC, if determined necessary, will not seek participation from or include questions for media owners, news directors or reporters.

“Any suggestion that the FCC intends to regulate the speech of news media or plans to put monitors in America's newsrooms is false. The FCC looks forward to fulfilling its obligation to Congress to report on barriers to entry into the communications marketplace, and is currently revising its proposed study to achieve that goal.”

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The Federal Communications Commission plans to revise a study that Republicans said would allow "FCC funded agents to question the editorial decisions of journalists, producers, and other news professionals," Broadcasting & Cable's John Eggerton reported Thursday.

In a letter to Fred Upton (R-Mich.), head of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said his agency has no intention of regulating journalists' and broadcasters' free speech in carrying out the study, but added that the research design would be changed to address the concerns raised, according to B&C.

At issue is the Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs (CIN), described by the FCC in an April 2013 research design paper as a means to identify barriers to the public's information needs, with special focus on vulnerable and disadvantaged populations.

Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai criticized the study in a Feb. 10 Wall Street Journal article:

The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about "the process by which stories are selected" and how often stations cover "critical information needs," along with "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations."

Pai went on to write:

[FCC] plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their "news philosophy" and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.

Pai said the agency has "meddled in news coverage" before by enforcing the Fairness Doctrine that required broadcasters to provide equal time to opposing viewpoints about controversial issues. The FCC dropped enforcement of the doctrine in 1987, he said.

Newsbusters' Kyle Drennen admonished ABC, NBC and CBS for their lack of coverage of the subject, writing that they "ignored the potential threat to press freedom." Fox News, he noted, covered the subject Wednesday.


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