The FCC holds an off-the-record 'press conversation'
Yesterday at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, DC there was an off-the-record meeting with FCC Commissioner O'Reilly and members of the press which I attended. There is much that is newsworthy occurring at the commission at all times. In case you have forgotten:
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai dropped a bombshell in the pages of the Wall Street Journal on February 10 when he penned an op-ed titled, "The FCC Wades Into the Newsroom," which asked the question, "Why is the agency studying 'perceived station bias' and asking about coverage choices?"
In his WSJ piece, Commissioner Pai went on to assert, ". . . everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories." He continued:
Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission, where I am a commissioner, does not agree. 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." (snip)
The FCC also wants to wade into office politics. 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.
The proposal can be viewed in its entirety here: Multi-market Study of Critical Information Needs.
Many in the news industry were shocked by the proposal, as were most red-blooded Americans who got wind of it. The government has no place in monitoring newsrooms. News media has a purpose enshrined in our Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Because of the backlash, by last Friday the FCC had put the brakes on the proposal, announcing they would take the survey program back to the drawing board to be revised.
But at the off the record meeting questions were asked about the H-block airwaves license auction, net neutrality, and the Comcast/Time Warner Merger. There were also chummier questions such as "How do you get along with the new FCC Chairman?"
With reporters present from major news agencies and papers from around the country, what was startling was this: There was only one question asked about the Survey of Critical Information Needs. Just one. By me. It was as if the trial balloon-type threat of the US Government using its muscle to influence news media decisions hadn't even happened. Forgotten. Water under the bridge.
Judging by the conduct of the press at this meeting, maybe the FCC won't have to go back and revise its Survey plan after all.