Tuesday, February 25, 2014

FCC Backs Down From Monitoring News Rooms, For Now

Fairness Doctorine

As a news story, this has had a fascinating evolution. It appears that The Daily Caller has led the way on coverage. They wrote about this survey back in October, and covered most of the details that comprise the story today. And then in December, they noted how the survey seemed to be going nowhere. Mark Levin commented on it several times on his radio show, but few others paid any attention to it.

In December, House of Representative members also decried this survey as reviving the Fairness Doctrine. Tom Wheeler, the recently installed FCC Chair—a true Obama believer and top Obama bundler—responded to Congressional criticism in December, saying during a hearing that “...what we did was, there is a study that has been proposed by a consulting firm that we were working with, and we put that out for public notice to exactly get the kind of input that you’re suggesting.”

Wheeler’s response has since evolved. On February 14 Wheeler responded to House criticism of the FCC study by writing that the regulatory agency will “adapt the study in response to these concerns and expect to complete this work in the next few weeks.” There is nothing to see here, he contended, saying, “The Commission has no intention of regulating political or other speech of journalists or broadcasters by way of this Research Design, any resulting study, or through any other means.”

Yet the study did intend to extend the probe into the newsrooms of print journalists, according to a Fox News’ Greta van Susteren panel and an FCC commissioner. The FCC has no jurisdiction over print media. “The survey is clearly written by somebody who’s never set foot in a newsroom. ... They go into newspapers as well. The FCC doesn’t even regulate newspapers,” said Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post on Greta’s panel. Tumulty called the study and its proposed actions “completely clueless.” That’s like saying the IRS officials were merely “boneheaded” when they repeatedly targeted conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status.

Van Susteren called the FCC’s proposals something different: so stupid that they could be seen as malevolent, “almost trying to shut up journalists.”

“What in the world is going on where somebody in our government thinks it’s a good idea to invade these different news rooms, when we’ve got a First Amendment, we’ve got freedom of the press, I mean who in his right mind?” she asked. “And why didn’t everybody—And maybe if one FCC commissioner was stupid enough, where were the other ones?”

In breaking ranks with his fellow FCC commissioners in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, Ajit Pai wrote, “But everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.” He added, “Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission, where I am a commissioner, does not agree.”

He points to the survey as an example, and says that “The FCC says the study is merely an objective fact-finding mission (emphasis added). The results will inform a report that the FCC must submit to Congress every three years on eliminating barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and small businesses in the communications industry.” But Pai calls that claim “peculiar.”

“How can the news judgments made by editors and station managers impede small businesses from entering the broadcast industry?” he writes. “And why does the [Critical Information Needs] study include newspapers when the FCC has no authority to regulate print media?”

When Pai was asked by Van Susteren about the origin of the idea, he said he didn’t know.

Clearly, something more nefarious is going on here, and the media shouldn’t play along. For the administration to think it’s okay to go into newsrooms, especially into newsrooms of newspapers, where they don’t have even a shred of authority, is outrageous. The question is, how will—and how should—newsrooms react to Big Brother coming in and asking such questions? Van Susteren and her panel from the Post, Washington Examiner, and The Hill suggested the media simply should not cooperate.

However, if this plan were to proceed in some manner, those under the FCC’s thumb—radio and television stations—may not have much choice but to play along. Their license renewals may be at stake. This reminds us of how the IRS went to organizations seeking 501(c)4 exemptions, and how the conservative and tea party groups were asked about their political and religious beliefs, for their tweets and Facebook pages, and other organizational data.

“This is an outrage disguised as a study,” noted Charles Krauthammer. “As if the IRS, and the EPA, and NLRB haven’t done enough damage,” said Krauthammer on Fox News’ “Special Report,” “the FCC now has to trample on what rights are remaining.”

Clearly, this administration includes intimidation and thought control as part of President Obama’s plan for “transforming America.” But of course, he knew nothing about this until he heard about it in the media. Jay Carney said, at his White House press briefing on Friday, “The FCC is an independent agency, so you’d have to talk to them for details.”

Many have suggested that this is Obama’s way of re-instituting a Fairness Doctrine by stealth means, since the long-time dream of Democrats to do it by legislation or direct regulation has failed. But I don’t quite see it that way. The Fairness Doctrine required measured, timed balance on the licensed airwaves, whether radio or TV. The Obama administration would prefer that every station 

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