A planned Federal Communications Commission probe into media news coverage has “bestirred the sleeping media to the threat to life as we know it,” according to an editorial in Thursday’s Washington Times. The commission will “be on a hunt for signs of bias,” the Times warned. “Someone should tell these worthies that the First Amendment provides a wall of separation between newsrooms and the state.”
The coming FCC study will ostensibly be aimed at finding barriers to entry into the news markets, as well as determining how news media throughout the nation are meeting the public’s “Critical Information Needs,” especially the needs of segments of the population that may be underserved or disadvantaged in receiving news of public policies or events that affect their lives. In the process, the agency will be, according to its blueprint for the study, looking at “the process by which stories are selected,” how often station covers what the FCC has determined to be “critical information needs,” issues of “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.” The FCC has chosen eight categories, including “environment” and “economic opportunity,” to use in assessing stations’ collection and dissemination of “critical information.” To examine the policies and “news philosophy” of a broadcast outlet, “the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run,” FCC Commissioner Agit Pai wrote in an opinion piece that appeared last week in the Wall Street Journal. Pai, who opposes the planned study, said:
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.
While participation in the survey, is voluntary in theory, Pai wrote,
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