Is the FCC Trying to Revive the “˜Fairness Doctrine’?

Republicans claim the agency is trying to meddle in TV journalism.

Chris Wallace (right) interviews Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on 'FOX News Sunday' at the FOX News D.C. Bureau on July 27, 2012.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
See more stories about...
Brendan Sasso
Feb. 12, 2014, midnight

Re­pub­lic­ans are mak­ing a start­ling ac­cus­a­tion: The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion is quietly try­ing to con­trol the ed­it­or­i­al de­cisions of TV news broad­casts.

In a Wall Street Journ­al op-ed pub­lished on­line Monday, Ajit Pai, a Re­pub­lic­an FCC com­mis­sion­er, said the agency is tak­ing a “dan­ger­ous” first step to­ward “news­room poli­cing” in the style of the now-de­funct Fair­ness Doc­trine. Un­der the con­tro­ver­sial doc­trine, which the FCC aban­doned in 1987 and form­ally took off the books in 2011, the agency re­quired ra­dio and TV sta­tions to air op­pos­ing views on con­tro­ver­sial is­sues.

Pai ex­pressed alarm that the FCC could soon start ques­tion­ing why Fox spends so much time cov­er­ing the at­tacks in Benghazi, or why NBC has fo­cused on the con­tro­versy over lane clos­ures in New Jer­sey.

House Re­pub­lic­ans made a sim­il­ar ac­cus­a­tion in Decem­ber, claim­ing the FCC was work­ing on a “Fair­ness Doc­trine 2.0.”

“Giv­en the wide­spread calls for the com­mis­sion to re­spect the First Amend­ment and stay out of the ed­it­or­i­al de­cisions of re­port­ers and broad­casters, we were shocked to see that the FCC is put­ting it­self back in the busi­ness of at­tempt­ing to con­trol the polit­ic­al speech of journ­al­ists,” Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee wrote in a let­ter to the FCC.

“It is wrong, it is un­con­sti­tu­tion­al, and we urge you to put a stop to this most re­cent at­tempt to en­gage the FCC as the ‘news po­lice.’ “

The con­tro­versy stems from a study the agency plans to con­duct on “crit­ic­al in­form­a­tion needs.” The FCC is re­quired by law to study ways to elim­in­ate bar­ri­ers to entry for small me­dia busi­nesses.

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

In his op-ed, Pai de­scribed the FCC’s pro­pos­al as send­ing “re­search­ers to grill re­port­ers, ed­it­ors, and sta­tion own­ers about how they de­cide which stor­ies to run.”

Re­spond­ing to the ques­tions is en­tirely vol­un­tary — al­though Pai sug­ges­ted that sta­tions will feel pres­sured to par­ti­cip­ate be­cause they de­pend on FCC li­censes to op­er­ate.

The FCC is not pro­pos­ing any new rules to re­strict the con­tent of TV sta­tions, and the com­mis­sion has said the study is just part of a routine pro­cess of gath­er­ing in­form­a­tion about the TV in­dustry.

But an FCC of­fi­cial said Tues­day that the agency may re­work the study to ad­dress the Re­pub­lic­an con­cerns.

“The com­mis­sion has no in­ten­tion of in­ter­fer­ing in the cov­er­age and ed­it­or­i­al choices that journ­al­ists make,” the of­fi­cial told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “We’re closely re­view­ing the pro­posed re­search design to de­term­ine if an al­tern­at­ive ap­proach is mer­ited.”

The FCC pro­posed the draft study last year un­der Act­ing Chair­wo­man Mignon Cly­burn, be­fore the cur­rent chair­man, Tom Wheel­er, took of­fice. The of­fi­cial said the agency is now work­ing on a new draft of the study.

What We're Following See More »
THE QUESTION
How Many Jobs Would Be Lost Under Bernie Sanders’s Single-Payer System?
6 hours ago
THE ANSWER

More than 11 million, according to Manhattan Institute fellow Yevgeniy Feyman, writing in RealClearPolicy.

Source:
WEEKEND DATA DUMP
State to Release 550 More Clinton Emails on Saturday
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

Under pressure from a judge, the State Department will release about 550 of Hillary Clinton’s emails—“roughly 14 percent of the 3,700 remaining Clinton emails—on Saturday, in the middle of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.” All of the emails were supposed to have been released last month. Related: State subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last year, which brings the total number of current Clinton investigations to four, says the Daily Caller.

Source:
LATER TO THIS YEAR’S NADER
Jim Webb Rules Out Independent Bid
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

UPDATED: Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) will not be playing the role of Ralph Nader in this year’s election. Speaking in Dallas today, Webb said, “We looked at the possibility of an independent candidacy. Theoretically, it could be done, but it is enormously costly and time sensitive, and I don’t see the fundraising trajectory where we could make a realistic run.”

Source:
HE’D SIPHON OFF DEM VOTES
RNC Chief Would Welcome Bloomberg
7 hours ago
THE DETAILS

“The lead­ers of the Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic na­tion­al com­mit­tees on Wed­nes­day weighed in on the pro­spect of an in­de­pend­ent pres­id­en­tial run by” former New York City May­or Mi­chael Bloomberg (I). “DNC Chair­wo­man Debbie Wasser­man Schultz sug­ges­ted that the former New York City may­or’s pri­or­it­ies are already ‘well cared-for’ in the Demo­crat­ic plat­form, while RNC lead­er Re­ince Priebus wel­comed the idea, say­ing Bloomberg would si­phon off votes from the Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate.”

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Large Is Hillary Clinton’s Delegate Lead?
8 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Three hundred fifty-two, thanks to superdelegates pledged to Clinton, and the vagaries of the delegate allocation process in early states. Not bad, considering her results have been a virtual tie and a blowout loss.

Source:
×