GOP Wants FCC Newsroom Study Gone for Good

Rep. Walden to introduce legislation and hold hearing

Even though the Federal Communications Commission chairman said the agency would stay out of the newsroom in a proposed study of the media marketplace, GOP leaders want to make sure it stays that way.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the communications and technology subcommittee, vowed today to introduce legislation to kill the agency's so-called "Critical Information Needs" study. He's also planning to hold a hearing.

The study caused uproar among Walden and every GOP member of the commerce committee, as well as FCC GOP commissioner Ajit Pai, for the study's intent to probe journalists and other news staff in stations and newspapers about their news philosophy and the editorial decision-making process.

Finally, acknowledging the study crossed the line, chairman Tom Wheeler said the FCC would take out the offending survey questions. Wheeler also affirmed that the FCC had "no intention" of regulating the speech of journalists or broadcasters.

But Walden isn't satisfied with Wheeler's edits to the study, nor with Wheeler's answers to a letter the GOP members sent last December; Walden wants the study gone for good.

"The very existence of this CIN study is an affront to the First Amendment and should have never been proposed in the first place," said Walden, a former broadcaster with a journalism degree. "To date, chairman Wheeler has insisted upon only making small tweaks, and what he has proposed to do isn't enough. The study should be eradicated completely."

There remain a lot of unanswered questions about the FCC's study, starting with questions about how newsgathering and editorial decision making help the FCC figure out how to best eliminate barriers to minority and ethnic ownership in broadcasting. Even if there were some sort of link, it strains credulity that a government agency would think it's a good idea to send researchers into the very stations it licenses to inquire about editorial decisions.

"It took nearly 25 years to get the Fairness Doctrine off the books once it had been 'eliminated' in 1987, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure this study or any other effort by the government to control the output of America's newsrooms never sees the light of day," Walden said.

The study was originally proposed under former acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn. Not coincidentally, the pilot for the study was to take place in Columbia, S.C., the same district represented by Clyburn's father, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

The FCC has not provided more specifics about its review of the study.