Republican Lawmakers Want to ‘Eradicate’ the FCC’s Planned Newsroom Study

The inquiry is already getting pared back, but top Republicans are working on legislation to eliminate it entirely.

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 04:  Majority Transition Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) answers reporters' questions about the upcoming transition of power in the House of Representatives at the U.S. Captiol November 4, 2010 in Washington, DC. Walden said that his committee will put out an actual "suggestion box" and ask new and returning members for suggestions on how to make the House more effecient.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Laura Ryan
Feb. 25, 2014, 11:43 a.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans on the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee plan to in­tro­duce a bill to “erad­ic­ate” a con­tro­ver­sial Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion study that was go­ing to ques­tion journ­al­ists and me­dia own­ers. 

A firestorm erup­ted last week over a FCC study — form­ally in­tro­duced last sum­mer — that in­ten­ded to ask print and broad­cast news­rooms ques­tions about ed­it­or­i­al judg­ment and news philo­sophy as part of a broad ana­lys­is on “crit­ic­al in­form­a­tion needs” and bar­ri­ers to entry in the me­dia.

House Com­mu­nic­a­tions and Tech­no­logy Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Greg Walden an­nounced Tues­day that the com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on the “chilling” study in the near fu­ture, as well as in­tro­duce le­gis­la­tion to stop the study from tak­ing place al­to­geth­er.

“The very ex­ist­ence of this [crit­ic­al in­form­a­tion needs] study is an af­front to the First Amend­ment and should have nev­er been pro­posed in the first place,” the Ore­gon con­gress­man wrote in a state­ment.

Last week, FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er tried to as­suage Re­pub­lic­ans’ con­cerns that the com­mis­sion wants to po­lice news­rooms, and even­tu­ally re­moved the por­tion of the study that in­volved me­dia own­ers and journ­al­ists. But he said the FCC will pro­ceed with a second part of the study — de­signed by the re­search firm So­cial Solu­tions In­ter­na­tion­al — that polls a sampling of res­id­ents about how they con­sume the news in Columbia, S.C., the pi­lot loc­a­tion for the study.

But Walden says this does not go far enough and wants the FCC to dis­con­tin­ue the whole study.

Walden and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans say the study vi­ol­ates the First Amend­ment, and they have sug­ges­ted it is an un­der­hand at­tempt to bring back the Fair­ness Doc­trine, a con­tro­ver­sial policy that re­quired ra­dio and TV news to present op­pos­ing views of the news stor­ies they covered from 1949 to 1987.

The de­bate was sparked by an op-ed cri­ti­ciz­ing the study by FCC Com­mis­sion­er Ajit Pai for The Wall Street Journ­al on Feb. 10, al­though Re­pub­lic­an law­makers raised con­cerns with Wheel­er in Decem­ber.

The FCC is re­quired by law to con­duct such re­search stud­ies as part of ef­fort to en­cour­age great­er di­versity.

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