Feds to snoop in newsrooms. What could go wrong?

In fifty years, some kid who will be my age now might regale his grandchildren with stories of things like a "free" press, and "free" speech. The wide-eyed kids will no doubt be entranced with these fairy tales and beg grandpa to tell them more about the days when the United States was a "free" country, with a written Constitution that meant something and "public servants" who served something more than political correctness.

Try this one on for size: The FCC has propsed sending "researchers" into newsrooms across the country to find out why stories impacting minorities aren't being reported.

Washington Times:

The Obama administration is pushing forward with a Federal Communications Commission project that would send the nose of government researchers in newsrooms across the country - and First Amendment advocates want to know why.

The touted purpose of the plan is to "identify and understand the critical information needs of the American public, with special emphasis on vulnerable-disadvantaged populations," the FCC said, Fox News reported.

But at least one FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal that suggested the notion was more aimed at giving government entities the ability to "grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run."

Mr. Pai continued: "Everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories."

First Amendment and government watchdog organizations were quick to agree.

"The FCC seems unable to keep its hands off the news media for any extended period of time," said Jeffrey Eisenach, a visiting scholar with The American Enterprise Institute, to Fox News. "It's the same generic concern of needing a news nanny to make sure we're all well informed."

Among the questions to be studied: How news organizations select stories, and frequency with which broadcast outlets report on "critical information needs," Fox News reported.

The surveys will be voluntary - but Mr. Pai said the definition of voluntary can be rather subjective.

"Participation is voluntary - in theory," he wrote, in his op-ed to the Wall Street Journal. "[But] the FCC's queries may be hard for the broadcasters to ignore. They would be out of business without an FCC license."

The project is reportedly due to kick off this spring in Columbia, S.C.

"This is an extremely troubling and dangerous development that represents the latest in an ongoing assault on the Constitution by the Obama administration," said Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, in Fox News. "The federal government has no place attempting to control the media, using the unconstitutional actions of repressive regimes to squelch free speech."

The National Journal has some specifics that should make your hair stand on end:

The controversy stems from a study the agency plans to conduct on "critical information needs." The FCC is required by law to study ways to eliminate barriers to entry for small media businesses.

Among other things, the agency plans to ask TV journalists about their "news philosophy" and "the process by which stories are selected." The study will gather data on "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations." The FCC also wants to examine how local TV stations cover "critical information" such as "economic opportunities" and the "environment."

In his op-ed, Pai described the FCC's proposal as sending "researchers to grill reporters, editors, and station owners about how they decide which stories to run."

Responding to the questions is entirely voluntary-although Pai suggested that stations will feel pressured to participate because they depend on FCC licenses to operate.

It sounds like the agency is preparing to impose something like a Fairness Doctrine on steroids. The bottom line being:

What the hell business is it of government how, when, why, who, and where a story is chosen for publication?

The Constitution - and the Bill of Rights - were written in plain English so that ordinary people could read and fully understand what their government would be allowed. These are "negative rights" - rights that forbid the government from taking certain actions such as to limit our right to speak, or to compel someone in a criminal case to be a witness against themselves, etc.

But the FCC wants to turn the negative right to free speech on its head, making it a "positive right" - rights that impose duties or obligations on others to provide goods or services, or to act in a certain way. It is a radical notion and should be nipped in the bud.

Even the left is uncomfortable with this idea of monitoring newsroom decisions. Congress should intervene to stop this aggressive move by the FCC to poke its nose in places it doesn't belong.