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.