The Federal Communications Commission has announced that it is suspending the so-called study of American newsrooms.
The federal regulatory agency came to its decision following objections from political figures, journalists, and commentators who were primarily aligned with one side of the political spectrum.
While some individuals are viewing the FCC’s supposed change of heart as a reason to celebrate, in this writer’s humble opinion it is too premature to declare victory, particularly when the seriousness of what was being contemplated by a powerful governmental body is taken into consideration.
The FCC program actually posed one of the most serious challenges to a free press that our nation has had to endure in a long while, yet the threat seems to have been met with a disturbing degree of silence, especially in establishment media circles.
In May of 2013, the FCC came up with what it referred to as the “Multi Market Study of Critical Information Needs.” The supposed study ultimately led to a design in which government monitors would be able to interrogate reporters and editors about the ways in which they make their selections on which news stories to cover.
The first locale in which the questioning of news organizations by the government was to take place was Columbia, S.C. However, the intentions were to eventually conduct the governmental inquiry process all over the country.
The FCC came up with eight different news categories that the agency considered “critical.” Researchers planned to analyze the content of one week’s worth of coverage to determine whether any or all of the eight critical categories were included.
The new research program appears to have been set up to further a previous study, which was conducted by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California and claimed that minorities were not being satisfactorily informed by news outlets. In addition, a finding was made that critical areas were being omitted from news coverage altogether.
With all the seriousness it could muster, the FCC put forth the claim that participation by news media staffers in the program would have been “voluntary.” However, the same television and radio stations that would have had to undergo questioning are the same television and radio stations that, in order to obtain a license to use the airwaves, would have to have been approved by the very same agency conducting the questioning.
The potential for intimidation that could result from the mere presence of governmental monitors is obvious. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states that the government shall not abridge “freedom of speech, or of the press.”
The beneficiaries of the right of a free press are the people. Government interference with the manner in which news content is determined is contrary to the public’s inherent right to accurate information that is embodied in the First Amendment’s free press clause.
The FCC has supposedly put a hold on the program, but the public should by no means take comfort. Even a cursory look leads one to conclude that the program needs to be completely eliminated.
FCC spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said Chairman Tom Wheeler did agree with critics that some of the study's proposed questions for reporters and news directors “overstepped the bounds of what is required.”
The FCC has indicated that the proposed South Carolina pilot study will be suspended only until a “new study design” has been completed.
Although the agency claims that the new design will not involve interviews with “media owners, news directors, or reporters,” unfortunately there are countless ways in which the agency would still be able to undermine a free press.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
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