Under Fire, FCC Drops Media Study

Republicans claimed the study would have stifled freedom of the press.

(L-R) In this handout image provided by Fox News Sunday, U.S. Representative Roy Blunt (R-MO), U.S. Representative John Boehner (R-OH) and U.S. Representative John Shadegg (R-AZ) appear on a monitor screen as they discuss possible reform issues while speaking with 'Fox News Sunday' host Chris Wallace January 15, 2006 in Washington, DC. The representatives are candidates for the position of House Majority Leader.
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Brendan Sasso
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Brendan Sasso
Feb. 28, 2014, 1:16 p.m.

Fa­cing charges that it was try­ing to con­trol the news me­dia, the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion has dropped its con­tro­ver­sial study of news­rooms.

“The FCC will not move for­ward with the Crit­ic­al In­form­a­tion Needs study,” an agency spokes­man said Fri­day. “The Com­mis­sion will re­as­sess the best way to ful­fill its ob­lig­a­tion to Con­gress to identi­fy bar­ri­ers to entry in­to the com­mu­nic­a­tions mar­ket­place faced by en­tre­pren­eurs and oth­er small busi­nesses.”

The FCC first pro­posed the study last year, say­ing it would help it gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how TV sta­tions and news­pa­pers provided news to their com­munit­ies. The agency was sched­uled to be­gin the study with a pi­lot in Columbia, S.C., this spring.

But the study came un­der fire from Re­pub­lic­ans, who claimed the agency was try­ing to meddle in the ed­it­or­i­al de­cisions of journ­al­ists.

Among oth­er things, the agency planned to ask journ­al­ists about their “news philo­sophy” and “the pro­cess by which stor­ies are se­lec­ted.” The study would have gathered data on “per­ceived sta­tion bi­as” and “per­ceived re­spons­ive­ness to un­der­served pop­u­la­tions.” The FCC also wanted to ex­am­ine how loc­al TV sta­tions covered “crit­ic­al in­form­a­tion” such as “eco­nom­ic op­por­tun­it­ies” and the “en­vir­on­ment.”

The is­sue gained more wide­spread at­ten­tion earli­er this month when Ajit Pai, a Re­pub­lic­an FCC com­mis­sion­er, wrote a Wall Street Journ­al op-ed blast­ing the study. He warned that the agency planned to send “re­search­ers to grill re­port­ers, ed­it­ors, and sta­tion own­ers about how they de­cide which stor­ies to run.”

Re­spond­ing to the ques­tions would have been vol­un­tary, but Pai sug­ges­ted that TV sta­tions would have felt pres­sured to par­ti­cip­ate be­cause they de­pend on FCC li­censes to op­er­ate.

The Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee were plan­ning a hear­ing and pre­par­ing a bill to “erad­ic­ate” the FCC’s study.

In a joint state­ment Fri­day, En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man Fred Up­ton and Com­mu­nic­a­tions and Tech­no­logy Sub­comit­tee Chair­man Greg Walden ap­plauded the FCC for drop­ping the “ill-con­ceived en­croach­ment in­to the news­room.”

“This is a vic­tory for the First Amend­ment and free­dom of the press. But this un­pre­ced­en­ted and dan­ger­ous in­tru­sion on Amer­ica’s news­rooms should nev­er have been pur­sued in the first place.”

A spokes­man for the Re­pub­lic­an law­makers did not say wheth­er they would still push ahead with a hear­ing or le­gis­la­tion.

FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er had tried to dis­tance him­self from the study, which was first pro­posed un­der his pre­de­cessor, act­ing Chair­wo­man Mignon Cly­burn. Wheel­er at first said he would re­work the pro­pos­al, be­fore de­cid­ing to scrap it al­to­geth­er.

Laura Ryan contributed to this article.
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