The FCC Wades Into the Newsroom

Why is the agency studying 'perceived station bias' and asking about coverage choices?

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By AJIT PAI, Wall Street Journal

News organizations often disagree about what Americans need to know. MSNBC, for example, apparently believes that traffic in Fort Lee, N.J., is the crisis of our time. Fox News, on the other hand, chooses to cover the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi more heavily than other networks. The American people, for their part, disagree about what they want to watch.
But everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission, where I am a commissioner, does not agree. Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.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.”

How does the FCC plan to dig up all that information? First, the agency selected eight categories of “critical information” such as the “environment” and “economic opportunities,” that it believes local newscasters should cover. It 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.

The FCC also wants to wade into office politics. One question for reporters is: “Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?” Follow-up questions ask for specifics about how editorial discretion is exercised, as well as the reasoning behind the decisions.

Participation in the Critical Information Needs study is voluntary—in theory. Unlike the opinion surveys that Americans see on a daily basis and either answer or not, as they wish, the FCC’s queries may be hard for the broadcasters to ignore. They would be out of business without an FCC license, which must be renewed every eight years.

This is not the first time the agency has meddled in news coverage. Before Critical Information Needs, there was the FCC’s now-defunct Fairness Doctrine, which began in 1949 and required equal time for contrasting viewpoints on controversial issues. Though the Fairness Doctrine ostensibly aimed to increase the diversity of thought on the airwaves, many stations simply chose to ignore controversial topics altogether, rather than air unwanted content that might cause listeners to change the channel.

The Fairness Doctrine was controversial and led to lawsuits throughout the 1960s and ’70s that argued it infringed upon the freedom of the press. The FCC finally stopped enforcing the policy in 1987, acknowledging that it did not serve the public interest. In 2011 the agency officially took it off the books. But the demise of the Fairness Doctrine has not deterred proponents of newsroom policing, and the CIN study is a first step down the same dangerous path.

The FCC says the study is merely an objective fact-finding mission. The results will inform a report that the FCC must submit to Congress every three years on eliminating barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and small businesses in the communications industry.

This claim is peculiar. How can the news judgments made by editors and station managers impede small businesses from entering the broadcast industry? And why does the CIN study include newspapers when the FCC has no authority to regulate print media?

Should all stations follow MSNBC’s example and cut away from a discussion with a former congresswoman about the National Security Agency’s collection of phone records to offer live coverage of Justin Bieber‘s bond hearing? As a consumer of news, I have an opinion. But my opinion shouldn’t matter more than anyone else’s merely because I happen to work at the FCC.

Mr. Pai is a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

Greta Van Susteren: Obama’s News Police Meant to Intimidate, Stifle and Chill Speech

On Wednesday night’s On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, a panel discussed the Obama Regime’s latest power grab – an FCC pilot program that would send “researchers” to newsrooms to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. Former FCC Commissioner AJIT PAI wrote about the plan in his Wall Street Journal piece, The FCC Wades Into the Newsroom.

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.”

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.”

How does the FCC plan to dig up all that information? First, the agency selected eight categories of “critical information” such as the “environment” and “economic opportunities,” that it believes local newscasters should cover. It 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.

Susteren is outraged. She had on The Hill’s AB Stoddard, The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty and the Washington Examiner’s Byron York to discuss the Regime’s stealth attempt to bring back the  Fairness Doctrine, and they all agreed that it was a horrible idea that no self-respecting newsroom would tolerate.

Greta named three things that she thought she’d never see happen in her own country – the NSA spying on all American citizens, the use of drones to kill American citizens, and now this. Tumulty noted the FCC was also planning to visit newspapers which they don’t even have the power to regulate.

“You ask a news organization what their news philosophy is – it’s to cover the news and make a profit out of that”, Tumulty declared.

Greta retorted, “if they asked me, you know what I’d say? None of your business.” She went on to say she hoped any other news organization would respond the same way.

Stoddard wondered why any newsroom or newspaper would feel like they would have to comply with these FCC inquisitions. ”I can’t imagine even the most liberal outfit coming from this profession being willing to share their philosophy and change the way they cover anything…” She said.

Greta asserted that the whole thing is “meant to intimidate and to stifle and to chill,” and expressed shock and horror that someone thought that this was a good idea to begin with.

AB Stoddard agreed, “it seems so ludicrous – so unAmerican – that I can’t believe that it would ever become real, but the fact that someone had an idea about it and it didn’t get slapped down – is more than strange.”

One gets the uneasy feeling that Obama looks to Communist South American Dictators who take control of the news media with great admiration and envy.

SEE ALSO:

Doug Ross: NOT CREEPY AT ALL: Obama FCC Placing Government Monitors in Newsrooms to Police Media:

Every major repressive regime of the modern era has begun with an attempt to control and intimidate the press.

As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

The federal government has absolutely no business determining what stories should and should not be run, what is critical for the American public and what is not, whether it perceives a bias, and whose interests are and are not being served by the free press.

It’s an unconscionable assault on our free society.

Imagine a government monitor telling Fox News it needed to cover stories in the same way as MSNBC or Al Jazeera. Imagine an Obama Administration official walking in to the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal and telling it that the American public would be better served if it is stopped reporting on the IRS scandal or maybe that reporting on ObamaCare “glitches” is driving down enrollment.

It’s hard to imagine anything more brazenly Orwellian than government monitors in newsrooms.

Via Dick Morris: 

Surveys will be distributed to reporters, news editors, assignment editors, publishers, owners, on-air reporters, film editors and other station or newspaper staff. These are the questions they will ask:

–What is the news philosophy of the station?

–Who else in your market provides news?

–Who are your main competitors?

–Is the news produced in-house or is it provided by an outside source?

–Do you employ news people?

–How many reporters and editors do you employ?

–Do you have any reporters or editors assigned to topic “beats”? If so how many and what are the beats?

–Who decides which stories are covered?

–How much influence do reporters and anchors have in deciding which stories to cover? –How much does community input influence news coverage decisions?

–How do you define critical information that the community needs?

–How do you ensure the community gets this critical information? On-Air Staff? Reporters? Anchors?

–How much news does your station air every day?

–Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers (viewers, listeners, readers) that was rejected by management? If so, can you give an example? What was the reason given for the decision? Why do you disagree?

These intrusive questions, prying into station politics and policies, can only send a chilling message to radio and television outlets.

Fox News: ‘The Kelly File’ looks at the FCC’s proposal to study newsrooms:

A Federal Communications Commission proposal to “study” how the news media operates by placing researchers in newsrooms, “The Kelly File” reported on Wednesday.

“It’s very reminiscent of the kinds of questions that were asked of my clients in the IRS matter that is currently in federal court,” said Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice. “Same kind of questioning process of content, determination on point of view, and I think this government, this administration is bent on aiming and targeting those they don’t like.”

Katie Pavlich, the news editor of Townhall.com, wondered why the Obama administration didn’t learn following the fallout over the Justice Department’s wiretapping of Associated Press journalists.

“Now, they want to send investigators into newsrooms all over the country,” she said. “This is about controlling what people say, and this is about intimidating the news.”

Pavlich agreed with host Megyn Kelly’s assertion that the proposal provides a window into “how the FCC is thinking” when it comes to an independent press.

I emboldened what Sekulow said because I was thinking the same thing and I think it is key.

Do a Google search on this story, and you’ll quickly notice which media outfits are the most concerned about this – the WSJ, which broke the story, Fox News, the ACLJ, Mediaite, and lots of conservative blogs.

Why do you suppose ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC,  CNN, the Washington Post and NYTs (the Democrat media complex as Andrew Breitbart used to call them) are mum? Why is this not a big story for them? Could it be because they are already voluntarily complying with the Regime’s PC requirements? Are they not already simpatico with the Regime’s Statist worldview? In 2016, can we fully expect them to run interference  for the Democrat candidate  like they did so shamelessly for Obama in 2008 and 2012? Of course they will. They pretend to be impartial, but when it counts – they will sting the Republican. It is their nature.

So who do you think is being “targeted” here? As usual, it’s the disfavored conservative leaning rabble-rousers who don’t tow the Regime’s Statist line. And the Democrat media complex is once again, looking away from a scandal,  giving the Regime their tacit approval.

Greta Van Susteren has every reason to be horrified.

Andrew Klavan, Truth Revolt: KLAVAN: A Sick Media #BOWDOWN To Their Own Oppressors:

…we don’t need a thuggish FCC to know this administration wants the media choir to sing the White House song castrato. Reporters Without Borders has already downgraded the U.S. fourteen spots to number 46 on the World Press Freedom Index this year alone. The president’s men have tapped reporters’ phones and email. And even Jill Abramson, editor of the leftist New York Times, says, “This is the most secretive White House… I have ever dealt with.”

And yet the Times and the news networks continue to play down presidential malfeasance — including that which threatens their own freedom!

It was unbelievably childish of journalists to believe, as Barbara Walters put it, that Obama was “the next messiah.” It is venal of them to turn a near-sighted eye to his IRS abuse, Benghazi cover-up and unconstitutional non-enforcement of law. But for American news people to #BOWDOWN before an administration that shows open hostility to the First Amendment — that’s just hashtag-pathological.

Ben Shapiro, Big Government: OBAMA CRACKDOWN ON PRESS FREEDOM ESCALATES:

Last week, Reporters Without Borders dropped America in the World Press Freedom Index 2014 from 33rd to 46th. James Risen of The New York Times rightly explained, “I think 2013 will go down in history as the worst year for press freedom in the United States’ modern history.” And he’s right. The violation of press freedoms has been egregious under this administration, even as the press fetes President Obama as an honest and effective commander-in-chief.

Selective Access. President Obama has regularly granted special access to reporters who give him preferential coverage. CBS’ Steve Kroft admitted as much after a late-2012 interview with the President during which CBS clipped Obama’s explicit refusal to label Benghazi an act of terror: “(Obama) knows that we’re not going to play ‘gotcha’ with him, that we’re not going to go out of our way to make him look bad or stupid.”

Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, got special access for a profile of Obama for Vanity Fair – but Obama insisted on redlining his quotes. Lewis explained that “the White House insisted on signing off on the quotes that would appear.” A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle was threatened for covering an anti-Obama protest. As early as 2008, candidate Obama was kicking dissenters off planes after their outlets endorsed John McCain.

Targeting Reporters. In May 2013, the Associated Press dropped the bombshell that the Department of Justice had grabbed phone records for its reporters and editors of the course of two months. Records for 20 telephone lines belonging to the AP and reporters for it were seized between April and May of 2012. Those seizures affected over 100 journalists.

The AP’s President and CEO Gary Pruitt stated, “There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters.” Fox News’ James Rosen was also targeted by the DOJ after running a story about North Korea nuclear development. His State Department visits were tracked and his movements were followed. His parents’ phone records were even grabbed.

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