Kurtz: The FCC Should Butt Out of America's Newsrooms

Good piece from Howard Kurtz at Fox. Well, mostly good. First, the positives:

What on earth is the FCC thinking?

The last thing we need is the government mucking around with news content.

The title of this Big Brother-ish effort by the Federal Communications Commission sounds innocuous enough: “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs.” But it’s a Trojan horse that puts federal officials in the newsroom, precisely where they shouldn’t be.

Don’t take my word for it. The FCC says it wants to examine “the process by which stories are selected,” as well as “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”

Perceived station bias? Are you kidding me? Government bureaucrats are going to decide whether a newsroom is being fair?


Kurtz notes that the FCC can approve or deny broadcast licenses, so its innocuous little study isn’t so innocuous. There may be teeth behind the smiley face.

But then Kurtz does that thing where he blocks out all the other evidence that this administration is energetic in its efforts to cage things up.

Now some of the commentary about this is overheated, with talk of an FCC “thought police” and so on. The effort is beginning in a single city. But already there are signs that the commission is backing off.

Adweek reports that “controversial” sections of the study will be “revisited” under new chairman Tom Wheeler. An FCC official told the publication that the agency “has no intention of interfering in the coverage and editorial choices that journalists make. We’re closely reviewing the proposed research design to determine if an alternative approach is merited.”

The FCC should keep its alternative approaches to itself, as even the posing of these questions carries an intimidation factor. The government has no business meddling in how journalism is practiced. And if George W. Bush’s FCC had tried this, it would be a front-page story.

Indeed, and the fact that it isn’t presents one reason that this effort is a serious threat. It just doesn’t look like the media will put up much of a fight, because roughly 90% of them are progressives. Some in the media might even go along, if there was a chance that the FCC could end up re-instating the Fairness Doctrine, which is really what this exercise in snoopery is all about.


Ever since President Reagan scuttled the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, Democrats have been trying to get it reinstated. It shouldn’t be. It was an Orwellian system by which broadcast speech in America was never truly free. The reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine might, if applied to the current media landscape, force Fox to become more like MSNBC, while at least under this administration, MSNBC would not be required to become more like Fox. It might force stations that currently air conservative radio shows back to back to back to air liberals, despite the fact that liberal talk radio is a proven loser in the ratings and revenue. If the FCC gets the full reach that it wants, it might even force conservative web sites like this one to go left, always without reciprocity from the other side. Could the FCC even get its hands on Drudge? I’m sure that the Democrats who support the Fairness Doctrine would love to do just that. It has already signaled how it would justify forcing right outlets to go left without forcing left to go right. The justification would be in forcing right outlets to serve the “underserved populations” that the FCC has already identified. Conservatives, who have always been underserved by the national media, will never get a place among those groups, but every conceivable leftwing group will.

There’s an even crazier long-run possibility in all this: The modern newsroom is often virtual. It’s a home office or corner in the bedroom or a spot at the local cafe, with a laptop, tablet and cell phone. I work a thousand miles away from my newsroom. Just how intrusive does the FCC plan on getting?


Given this administration’s history of wiretapping and monitoring reporters who were just doing their jobs, and given this administration’s penchant for asking Americans to spy on and report on each other (remember Attack Watch?) there is no reason to believe that it has benign intentions here. There are many reasons to suspect that it is up to no good.


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