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Author Topic: The FCC Wades Into the Newsroom  (Read 2443 times)
Wilikon
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February 21, 2014, 04:06:26 AM
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Why is the agency studying 'perceived station bias' and asking about coverage choices?



News organizations often disagree about what Americans need to know. MSNBC, for example, apparently believes that traffic in Fort Lee, N.J., is the crisis of our time. Fox News, on the other hand, chooses to cover the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi more heavily than other networks. The American people, for their part, disagree about what they want to watch.

But everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.

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."

How does the FCC plan to dig up all that information? First, the agency selected eight categories of "critical information" such as the "environment" and "economic opportunities," that it believes local newscasters should cover. It plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their "news philosophy" and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.

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.

Participation in the Critical Information Needs study is voluntary—in theory. Unlike the opinion surveys that Americans see on a daily basis and either answer or not, as they wish, the FCC's queries may be hard for the broadcasters to ignore. They would be out of business without an FCC license, which must be renewed every eight years.

This is not the first time the agency has meddled in news coverage. Before Critical Information Needs, there was the FCC's now-defunct Fairness Doctrine, which began in 1949 and required equal time for contrasting viewpoints on controversial issues. Though the Fairness Doctrine ostensibly aimed to increase the diversity of thought on the airwaves, many stations simply chose to ignore controversial topics altogether, rather than air unwanted content that might cause listeners to change the channel.

The Fairness Doctrine was controversial and led to lawsuits throughout the 1960s and '70s that argued it infringed upon the freedom of the press. The FCC finally stopped enforcing the policy in 1987, acknowledging that it did not serve the public interest. In 2011 the agency officially took it off the books. But the demise of the Fairness Doctrine has not deterred proponents of newsroom policing, and the CIN study is a first step down the same dangerous path.

The FCC says the study is merely an objective fact-finding mission. The results will inform a report that the FCC must submit to Congress every three years on eliminating barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and small businesses in the communications industry.

This claim is peculiar. How can the news judgments made by editors and station managers impede small businesses from entering the broadcast industry? And why does the CIN study include newspapers when the FCC has no authority to regulate print media?

Should all stations follow MSNBC's example and cut away from a discussion with a former congresswoman about the National Security Agency's collection of phone records to offer live coverage of Justin Bieber's bond hearing? As a consumer of news, I have an opinion. But my opinion shouldn't matter more than anyone else's merely because I happen to work at the FCC.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304680904579366903828260732
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10 days later, no mainstream media picked up on the news about that Stasi like move.
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February 21, 2014, 09:25:24 PM
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Here are the questions asked in the study of owners/operators and editors. Try to figure out which questions will get removed.

Owners/operators:

• What is the news philosophy of the station?
• Who is your target audience?
• How do you define critical information that the community needs?
• How do you ensure the community gets this critical information?
• How much does community input influence news coverage decisions?
• What are the demographics of the news management staff (HR)?
• What are the demographics of the on air staff (HR)?
• What are the demographics of the news production staff (HR)?

Editors and mid-level managers:

• What is the news philosophy of the station?
• Who else in your market provides news?
• Who are your main competitors?
• How much news does your station (stations) air every day?
• Is the news produced in-house or is it provided by an outside source?
• Do you employ news people?
• How many reporters and editors do you employ?
• Do you have any reporters or editors assigned to topic “beats”? If so how many and what
are the beats?
• Who decides which stories are covered?
• How much influence do reporters and anchors have in deciding which stories to cover?
• How much does community input influence news coverage decisions?
• How do you define critical information that the community needs?
• How do you ensure the community gets this critical information?

The problem with this FCC study wasn’t just one or two questions. It’s that the FCC has no business involving itself in editorial judgment and news choices in the first place — especially at newspapers and Internet outlets. It’s an arrogation of jurisdiction, which would surely be followed by an arrogation of authority and power to address whatever “crises” in news reporting the study produces.

http://hotair.com/archives/2014/02/21/fcc-retreats-a-little-more-from-editorial-bias-study/
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February 21, 2014, 10:31:59 PM
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The Federal Communications Commission has pulled the plug on its plan to conduct an intrusive probe of newsrooms as part of a “Critical Information Needs” survey of local media markets.

However, a revised version of the survey could raise new concerns: that it will trade its now-kiboshed news questions for a demographic survey that might justify new race-based media ownership rulemaking.

n the course of FCC review and public comment, concerns were raised that some of the questions may not have been appropriate,” the FCC announced in a statement Friday. “Chairman [Tom] Wheeler agreed that survey questions in the study directed toward media outlet managers, news directors, and reporters overstepped the bounds of what is required. Last week, Chairman Wheeler informed lawmakers that that Commission has no intention of regulating political or other speech of journalists or broadcasters and would be modifying the draft study. Yesterday, the Chairman directed that those questions be removed entirely.”

The Critical Information Needs (CIN) survey has been a slow-burning controversy since ever since this reporter first revealed its existence in October 2013.

First Amendment supporters objected that the design of the survey would have had FCC representatives interrogating newsroom staffers about how they make coverage decisions and select (or spike) story ideas. Many commentators objected to the potential intimidation involved in such a survey.

The original plan of the survey would also have taken the FCC out of its traditional purview of regulating supposedly scarce airwaves. Because the CIN sought to discover “underserved” consumers in a variety of “media ecologies,” the survey would have included not only broadcast media but newspapers, blogs and online news.

However, there have been consistent doubts that the survey was ever going to happen. In a December followup article I found that none of the major broadcast, print or online media in Columbia, South Carolina – the market selected for the Critical Information Needs pilot study – had heard from either the FCC or Silver Spring, Maryland-based Social Solutions International (SSI) the FCC’s contractor on the project.

Columbia media professionals, along with the South Carolina Broadcasters Association, reiterated Friday that the pilot survey never began.

“No one has been contacted in Columbia,” WLTX General Manager Rich O’Dell told National Review Friday, prior to Wheeler’s announcement. “There’s been no official contact by anybody at the FCC or anywhere else.”

The CIN survey also came under fire from Congress. In December House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan), along with Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications & Technology, wrote to Wheeler to express their concerns about the survey’s potential chilling effects.

The combination of congressional pushback and the apparent slow-walking of the survey led to wide speculation that Wheeler was not interested in the CIN proposal – which was concocted under former Chairman Julius Genachowski and continued under interim Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn.

The FCC, along with SSI, have consistently declined to comment on the CIN survey. But even before Friday’s walkback, Wheeler had conceded that the project was being revised in a response to Upton’s December letter released Thursday but dated February 14.

“Your letter and the opportunity for public review surfaced a number of issues and modification of the Research Design may be necessary,” Wheeler wrote. “My staff has engaged in a careful and thorough review of the Research Design with the contractor to ensure that the inquiries closely hew to the mandate of Section 257. While the Research Design is a tool intended to help the Commission consider effective, pro-competitive policies that would encourage new entrants, its direction need not go beyond our responsibilities. We continue to work with the contractor to adapt the study in response to these concerns and expect to complete this work in the next few weeks.”

This was not enough to quell a media firestorm that began last week when FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai published a Wall Street Journal op-ed condemning the proposal. Conservative commentators joined free speech advocates in slamming the proposal.

“As designed, the study empowers researchers to not only ask a series of questions of news staff, it also provides (in pages 10 and 11) advice for gaining access to employees even when broadcasters and their Human Resources refuse to provide confidential employee information,” David French wrote Thursday in National Review. “The Obama administration FCC is abusing its regulatory authority by attempting to discern the inner workings of American newsrooms.”

The elimination of the newsroom probe raises the question of what form a future CIN survey may take. The cost of conducting the survey needs to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget, and the original $900,000 contract with Silver Spring, Maryland-based Social Solutions International has reportedly been revised downward.

One observer speculated to National Review that the FCC may take this opportunity to revisit a matter on which it has repeatedly been shot down. The airwaves regulator has been consistently blocked by courts in its efforts to establish race-based media ownership rules – on the grounds that it did not have data to justify such rulemaking. There is a movement to make the CIN a mechanism for gathering such data.

A December comment on an unrelated FCC docket suggests this idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. A group called the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights singled out the CIN survey as an avenue for race-based research by the FCC.

“Communities of color and women should have opportunities to control the distribution and creation of images about themselves,” the Conference wrote on December 5. “We look forward to working with the Chairman to consider the variety of technologies and policy initiatives that would accomplish that objective. We emphasized the importance of collecting data that tracks the impact of media consolidation on women and people of color, as mandated by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Prometheus v. FCC… We expressed our support for the Section 257 Critical Information Needs studies as a mechanism to obtain such data, and encouraged the Commission to move ahead with the effort, paying special attention to its ability to assess the needs of linguistic minorities.”

http://www.nationalreview.com/node/371699/print
Duane Vick
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February 22, 2014, 05:43:10 AM
 #4

With government officials in the newsrooms pressuring news agencies about which stories to run, America will essentially have state-run media. It is a shame that a lot of people don't see this for what it is:  sanitizing the news that is critical or dissenting in nature of any current administration's policies. It's doubleplus ungood.

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February 22, 2014, 05:49:23 AM
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Good luck finding consistent dissent and muckraking in mainstream media. This was a masterstroke, threaten to be Big Brother in the newsroom, then retract the plan, to make the sheeple think "it's safe again".

Wilikon
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February 28, 2014, 10:30:40 PM
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http://washingtonexaminer.com/four-of-five-fcc-study-authors-gave-to-obama/article/2544837



A significant problem with the now-suspended Federal Communications Commission plan to have government contractors question journalists about editorial decisions and practices was that it was a partisan exercise. The plan originated among Democrats on the FCC; the commission’s two Republican members didn’t even learn about it until it was well under way.

There was also a one-sidedness in the research behind the project. The FCC enlisted scholars from two big journalism schools, the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Communication and Democracy, to determine the “critical information needs” about which journalists would be questioned. The study, delivered in July 2012, listed five authors: Ernest J. Wilson III, Carola Weil, and Katya Ognyanova from USC, Lewis Friedland from Wisconsin, and Philip Napoli from Fordham University. (Weil is now with American University.) Four of the five, it turns out, contributed to President Obama’s campaigns.
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