“I know just the place for that questionnaire of yours, Mr. Chairman.”
The Federal Communications Commission has backtracked on a plan to ask journalists about news coverage decisions after protest from one of the commission’s members.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, part of the commission’s Republican minority, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on February 10 criticizing an FCC study on the news media. Saying that “The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories,” Pai wrote:
Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run.
A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.
The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”
One question for reporters is: “Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?” Follow-up questions ask for specifics about how editorial discretion is exercised, as well as the reasoning behind the decisions.
Yesterday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told staff to remove the offending questions, a commission statement today said.
The statement noted that the FCC is required to “report to Congress every three years on the barriers that may prevent entrepreneurs and small business from competing in the media marketplace, and pursue policies to eliminate those barriers. To fulfill that obligation in a meaningful way, the FCC’s Office of Communications Business Opportunities consulted with academic researchers in 2012 and selected a contractor to design a study which would inform the FCC’s report to Congress.”