In its most radical move in decades, the Federal Communications Commission is looking to insert its officers into newsrooms around the country. Fox reported Wednesday that the FCC says that it has identified eight “underserved populations” and is now looking for ways to make sure that those communities get more new coverage.
The Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs (CINs) initiative was proposed last May. The FCC explained that it wanted information from television and radio broadcasters “to ascertain the process by which stories are selected, station priorities (for content production quality, and populations served), perceived station bias, perceived percent of news dedicated to each of the eight CIN’s and perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”
The FCC has identified eight CINs, or key topics that the government believes should be covered.
The possibility of the FCC even suggesting topics for media news coverage is chilling.
The FCC claims that the study is “voluntary,” but the commission licenses the broadcasters that it seeks to monitor. The threat of penalties and even license revocation is real.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai warns that the study has the potential to become a heavy-handed means of pressuring reporters into making editorial decisions that fall in line with government wishes.
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.”
The study was supposed to begin this week, but so far the FCC’s officers have not shown up. Republicans in Congress are urging the FCC to scuttle the monitoring plan.
The study comes at a time when the Department of Justice has been caught tracking the movements of reporters and bugging their phone lines. It comes after Americans have learned that the National Security Agency has been scooping up information on our online and social media activity and our cell phone metadata. The FCC has repeatedly sought to expand its authority over the Internet via “net neutrality,” and over newspapers, which have never been subjected to FCC scrutiny before. The FCC was created to regulate broadcast transmissions via radio, television, wire, satellite and cable, but not content of media reports. FCC commissioners are presidential appointments. All of the commission’s five members were appointed to their posts by President Obama, but only three may belong to the president’s political party at any one time.
The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech individually and for the media, stating that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of the press.” The FCC’s CIN study appears to be a means of getting around the First Amendment. Congress is not being tasked with passing a law allowing the monitoring of newsrooms. No such law would get through both houses of Congress, and if one did, it would never stand up in court.
The United States under President Barack Obama has fallen to 46th place in the world in press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Also see Susan L.M. Goldberg at PJ Lifestyle: FCC Monitors Your News, Komrade