FCC Chief: We’re Not Going to Police Your Newsroom

Tom Wheeler wants to assuage GOP concerns that the agency wants to meddle with editorial decisions.

US-media-Fox An electronic news ticker above a sign at the Fox News Channel television studios in the parent News Corporation building, 05 October 2006, in New York. Fox News celebrates 10 years on the air, but When Fox News burst onto the scene, few thought the no-nonsense network would go on to become the top-rated cable news channel in the US. But one decade on, the network that prides itself on its 'fair and balanced' reporting easily leads its rivals in audience ratings as it continues to shake up the cable news industry and brushes off critics who label the channel a mouthpiece for conservatives and the Republican Party.
National Journal
Laura Ryan
Feb. 20, 2014, 12:43 p.m.

The head of the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion is try­ing to douse Re­pub­lic­an ac­cus­a­tions that his agency is try­ing to cov­ertly po­lice the ed­it­or­i­al de­cisions of TV news.

In a let­ter to seni­or House Re­pub­lic­ans re­leased Thursday, FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er said the agency “has no in­ten­tion of reg­u­lat­ing polit­ic­al or oth­er speech of journ­al­ists or broad­casters.”

Re­pub­lic­ans have picked at an FCC study in­tro­duced last spring on “crit­ic­al in­form­a­tion needs” that is in­ten­ded to ex­am­ine bar­ri­ers of entry in­to the news me­dia in­dustry for small busi­nesses. The study’s in­quiry in­cluded ques­tions such as: “What is the news philo­sophy of the sta­tion?” and “Who de­cides which stor­ies are covered?”

The FCC is re­quired by law to con­duct such re­search stud­ies, but the com­mis­sion’s crit­ics say this one was an ini­tial for­ay in­to an ef­fort to reg­u­late news­rooms’ ed­it­or­i­al de­cisions.

The ques­tions the study asked, Re­pub­lic­ans say, tread too close for com­fort to the now-de­funct Fair­ness Doc­trine, a con­tro­ver­sial fed­er­al policy that re­quired ra­dio and TV news to present op­pos­ing views of the news stor­ies they covered. The policy was in ef­fect from 1949 through 1987 and was form­ally wiped from the books in 2011.

But Wheel­er in­sists that’s not hap­pen­ing, de­fend­ing the FCC study as a “tool in­ten­ded to help the Com­mis­sion con­sider ef­fect­ive, pro-com­pet­it­ive policies that would en­cour­age new entrants,” and told Re­pub­lic­ans that the com­mis­sion is re­vis­ing the study to ad­dress their con­cerns.

Wheel­er’s as­sur­ances didn’t go far enough for House Re­pub­lic­ans, who urged the agency to “stay out of the news­room” in a state­ment Thursday.

FCC Com­mis­sion­er Ajit Pai, a Re­pub­lic­an, called at­ten­tion to the study in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journ­al last week, say­ing that the FCC study wants to “thrust the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment in­to news­rooms across the coun­try.”

Al­though par­ti­cip­a­tion is vol­un­tary, Pai is con­cerned that sta­tions will feel pres­sured to par­ti­cip­ate be­cause they de­pend on the FCC for a broad­cast li­cense.

House Re­pub­lic­ans shared sim­il­ar con­cerns with Wheel­er in Decem­ber, call­ing the study a “Fair­ness Doc­trine 2.0.”

“The pro­posed design for the [Crit­ic­al In­form­a­tion Needs] study shows a start­ling dis­reg­ard for not only the bed­rock con­sti­tu­tion­al prin­ciples that pre­vent gov­ern­ment in­tru­sion in­to the press and oth­er news me­dia, but also for the les­sons learned by the Com­mis­sion’s ex­per­i­ence with the Fair­ness Doc­trine,” Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee wrote.

UP­DATE: Chair­man Tom Wheel­er has dir­ec­ted that all ques­tions about news philo­sophy and ed­it­or­i­al judge­ment be re­moved from the draft study. “Any sug­ges­tion the Com­mis­sion in­tends to reg­u­late the speech of news me­dia is false,” FCC spokes­wo­man Shan­non Gilson said Fri­day. A re­vised study will be re­leased with­in the next few weeks. 

FUR­THER UP­DATE: The FCC an­nounced Fri­day that it will no longer ask the me­dia or journ­al­ists to par­ti­cip­ate in its study, a move that was wel­comed by Pai. The FCC will still pro­ceed with the second part of the con­tro­ver­sial study”“de­signed by the re­search firm So­cial Solu­tions In­ter­na­tion­al”“that aims to un­der­stand the “crit­ic­al in­form­a­tion needs” of com­munit­ies. This will in­volve polling a sampling of res­id­ents about how they con­sume the news in Columbia, S.C., the pi­lot loc­a­tion for the study. 

What We're Following See More »
SUFFOLK POLL
New Survey Shows Clinton Up 9 in Pennsylvania
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

If a new poll is to be believed, Hillary Clinton has a big lead in the all-important swing state of Pennsylvania. A new Suffolk University survey shows her ahead of Donald Trump, 50%-41%. In a four-way race, she maintains her nine-point lead, 46%-37%. "Pennsylvania has voted Democratic in the past six presidential elections, going back to Bill Clinton’s first win in 1992. Yet it is a rust belt state that could be in play, as indicated by recent general-election polling showing a close race."

Source:
$500 MILLION PROJECT
Obama Library Heading to Jackson Park in Chicago
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"President Barack Obama has chosen Jackson Park, a lakefront park that once hosted the world’s fair on the city’s South Side, for his $500 million presidential library, according to a person familiar with the matter."

Source:
THREE NIGHTS RUNNING
Democrats Beat Republicans in Convention Ratings So Far
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Wednesday was the third night in a row that the Democratic convention enjoyed a ratings win over the Republican convention last week. Which might have prompted a fundraising email from Donald Trump exhorting supporters not to watch. "Unless you want to be lied to, belittled, and attacked for your beliefs, don't watch Hillary's DNC speech tonight," the email read. "Instead, help Donald Trump hold her accountable, call out her lies and fight back against her nasty attacks."

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Many VIPs Were the Secret Service Protecting in Philly Last Night?
6 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Seven, according to an official Secret Service tweet.

Source:
‘MOGUL,’ ‘DAREDEVIL’
Candidates’ Code Names Revealed
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Clintons will retain their Secret Service "code names from the last time they lived in the White House. Hillary Clinton is EVERGREEN and Bill ClintonEAGLE. Donald Trump is MOGUL, according to reports, and Melania Trump MUSE. The vice presidents get code names, too: Mike Pence is HOOSIER—a little on the nose—and his wife HUMMINGBIRD. Tim Kaine is DAREDEVIL, somewhat ambitiously. His wife's? To be determined."

Source:
×