Under heavy criticism, the Federal Communications Commission has scrapped plans for a study which would have included going into newsrooms to examine their editorial practices.
The agency said the study was supposed to help it comply with a requirement to report to Congress on potential barriers to small businesses wanting to compete in the media.
However, the idea of the study came under fire. Criticism grew after a Republican on the commission published an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal warning that the agency “plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run,” The Hill newspaper reported.
Responding to the backlash, commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said last month the agency would be scaling back the study to avoid probing journalists and media owners. Wheeler said he agreed that survey questions directed toward media outlet managers, news directors and reporters overstepped the bounds of what is required of the agency.
“Media owners and journalists will no longer be asked to participate in the … pilot study. The pilot will not be undertaken until a new study design is final,” Wheeler said. “Any subsequent market studies conducted by the (communications commission), if determined necessary, will not seek participation from or include questions for media owners, news directors or reporters.”
“Any suggestion that the (communications commission) intends to regulate the speech of news media or plans to put monitors in America’s newsrooms is false,” he said. “The (communications commission) looks forward to fulfilling its obligation to Congress to report on barriers to entry into the communications marketplace, and is currently revising its proposed study to achieve that goal.”
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, applauded the communications commission’s decision to revise its study.
“I am pleased that the (commission) has rightfully terminated its plans to conduct a ‘Critical Information Needs’ study that would have improperly investigated the editorial decisions of the media,” Latta said. “The Constitution is the cornerstone of our great democracy, and the preservation of our First Amendment is paramount to the future of this country. As such, the federal government must be a leader in protecting our constitutional rights and freedoms.”
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