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Keeping the FCC out of American newsrooms

March 20, 2014

A few weeks ago, a little-known Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal came to light. This proposal would have created a study of how the American media chooses its stories. While the program may sound innocuous on its face, here’s what it would do:

  • FCC researchers would have been placed in newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations across the country to question the editorial decisions of the staffs there
  • These government researchers would have asked questions to ensure what was being reported met 8 “Critical Information Areas”, as defined by the Administration
  • These 8 Critical Information Areas are: emergencies and risks, health and welfare, the environment, education, transportation, economic opportunities, civic information, and political information.

This innocuous sounding program starts to sound a bit Orwellian once you think about it. Having government researchers from the organization that grants you a license to operate asking you, “Now, does that story really meet ‘the people’s’ need for political information?”.

I think this type of government intrusion into a free press is absolutely unacceptable. While the FCC Chairman backed off the program on February 20, I still wanted to make sure that the Administration couldn’t pursue a program that bordered on, or might violate, the First Amendment.

Last week, I, along with 20 colleagues, sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee asking that they insert language into the Fiscal Year 2015 Appropriations bill barring funding for this study, or any similar study. The First Amendment and the Constitution must be protected, and I believe that it is vitally important to maintain a free and open press in the United States.