The Federal Communications Commission is planning on conducting a study to determine how news outlets decide what topics to take up. It sounds simple and innocent enough, but many are critical about the move on speculations that it is the government’s way of elbowing itself into newsrooms.
When questioned about government surveillance of the media, FCC chair Tom Wheeler stated that the agency does not intend to regulate what broadcasters or journalists have to say. The study the FCC wants to conduct, called the Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs, aims only to identify if there are potential barriers in the market, and if there are, whether those obstacles have the power to affect the diversity of media voices.
What made the media so skeptical?
FCC commissioner Ajit Pai stated that the questions posted by the study will not be easy for broadcasters to ignore, even if participation is on a voluntary basis. Pai states that through the FCC study, the administration will force newsrooms to conform to what the study demands, or else probably be denied an FCC license.
Critics also believe that the FCC presence in newsrooms could also be the government’s vehicle in telling news outlets what to write about. Plus, considering the recent NSA surveillance leak and the IRS controversy, it’s understandable why the media is thinking they’re next.
Mike Cavender of the Radio Television Digital News Association thinks the study must be completely scrapped, because just the concept of having a study like that is abhorrent to those who pride themselves on their “journalistic independence.”
What critics are saying is simply this: the government has no place in the newsroom, and the study is bound to impede with media practitioners’ First Amendment rights.
The American Center for Law and Justice is urging the media and concerned citizens to sign its petition opposing the study. The study’s parameters have not been finalized, however, and Wheeler has said that the commission is open to comments.
Image via FCC.gov