FCC study of news media unleashes First Amendment controversy

fcc-logoLast week, a study proposed by the Federal Communications Commission intended to evaluate newsgathering methods of newsrooms was placed on the back burner to await changes before it proceeds.  FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced Feb. 21 the study would be revised after a backlash occurred following a journal article written by a FCC Commissioner, Ajit Pai.

The FCC’s goal of the study is to evaluate the process of newsgathering in broadcast stations.  The agency has determined there are eight critical information needs that must be met by the news media and which they are looking for in the content published.  The areas of critical information needs the FCC determined are emergencies and risks, health and welfare, education, transportation, economic opportunities, the environment, civic information, and public information.

An external company would question news station and media owners, editors, and reporters about the stories published and if they are providing the critical information needs to the public.

The researchers would ask questions concerning media owners’ philosophies in regards to how they choose what stories to publish.  They would also question reporters and journalists about what stories they suggest to their editors and how managers receive their suggestions.

Pai expressed his concerns on Feb. 10 in the Washington Journal about the research the FCC planned to carry out.

The commissioner opposes the study and believes the FCC is proposing an unnecessary plan that does not correlate with the duties of the agency.   The FCC regulates and licenses broadcast stations, however the study will look at other forms of mass media such as newspapers, blogs, and online news.

Although the study was announced in May 2013 and an article by The Daily Caller first shed light on the study in Oct. 2013, an outcry did not ensue until Commissioner Pai revealed his worry about the study the FCC planned to implement.

Pai stated in his article, “The FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country.

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 undeserved populations.”

Pai, along with many others, compares this study to the Fairness Doctrine, which the FCC stopped enforcing in 1987.

The Fairness Doctrine essentially told the news media what content to publish or speak about.   The Fairness Doctrine made it a policy for stations to have equal airtime contrasting opposing sides of controversial issues.

Many news media feel their First Amendment right to freedom of the press is being infringed upon.  The founding fathers established freedom of the press because they believed it should serve a fiduciary role to the people of America.  The press is to act as a watchdog for the government and to hold them accountable while providing accurate information to the public.

The FCC is making revisions to the study as Chairman Wheeler agreed that questions directed towards news managers, editors, and reporters exceeded the FCC’s authority and that these questions will be removed.  However, some politicians feel simple revisions to the study are not enough.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., head of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, announced Tuesday that he plans to propose a bill which will end intrusive studies similar to the critical information needs study of the FCC.

Walden believes bringing an end to any future studies that violate the First Amendment is necessary and that small changes to the FCC study is not sufficient.

The study was scheduled to begin this spring in Columbia, SC.

– Jordyn Gunn, Online Editor

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