In 2009, when she was still just a nominee for the Federal Communications Commission, Mignon Clyburn, the daughter of Rep. Jim Clyburn, told the Senate Commerce Committee, “The FCC is not in the content business.”
But just over a year since she was confirmed, the FCC is marching forward with a questionnaire for newsrooms that critics have ripped as invasive – and possibly a shot across the bow in a push to reinstate the Reagan-era fairness doctrine.
Titled the “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the FCC will send researchers to question reporters, editors, and broadcast station owners about their editorial decision-making, among other issues.
Outcry about the questionnaire has already prompted the FCC to backpeddle. In a Feb. 14 letter to Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the questionnaire is being amended and that the FCC “has no intention of regulating political or other speech of journalists.”
However, the move has spooked freedom of speech advocates.
“News outlets have the freedom to decide what information Americans need to know. It is not the government’s place to decide what information is ‘critical’ and what is not. That’s why it is inappropriate for a government agency to ask news organizations why they are covering certain stories but not others,” FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said in a statement to Breitbart News.
“And that’s why there has been a groundswell of public opposition to the CIN study. The government has no place in the newsroom, and I will oppose any study that involves the FCC entering it,” he added.
Clyburn, whose father is a vocal proponent of the fairness doctrine, will be running the CIN study. Interestingly, a field test of the CIN will be happening in Jim Clyburn’s own home state of South Carolina within the city limits of Columbia.
Jim Clyburn called for the fairness doctrine in the wake of the 2011 Tuscon, Arizona shooting, which resulted in six dead and 14 seriously injured, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).
“The shooting is cause for the country to rethink parameters on free speech, Clyburn said from his office, just blocks from the South Carolina Statehouse. He wants standards put in place to guarantee balanced media coverage with a reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, in addition to calling on elected officials and media pundits to use “better judgment,” reported The Post and Courier in January of 2011.
“Free speech is as free speech does,” he said. “You cannot yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater and call it free speech and some of what I hear, and is being called free speech, is worse than that,” Clyburn reportedly said, referencing a remark made by 2010 U.S. senatorial candidate Sharron Angle of Nevada, who commented on political disputes and “Second Amendment remedies.” Clyburn blamed such political discourse for Tuscon shooter Jared Loughner’s 2011 rampage.
“He saw a Second Amendment remedy and that’s what occurred here and there is no way not to make that connection,” Clyburn said.
Former FCC Commissioner, Robert McDowell, who left the agency in May as Clyburn was appointed by Obama to become the agency’s interim chair, told Breitbart News he believes there is an “explicit link” of a political agenda between Clyburn and her Congressman father, “but the link is that the FCC is trying to determine whether broadcast content is valuable to consumers.”
McDowell added, “There’s no proposal on the table to explicitly regulate content. I think that’s important to note, but at the same time, the FCC does determine whether or not a broadcaster gets to stay in business through the licensing renewal process that happens every eight years.”
President Obama nominated Ms.Clyburn, a former South Carolina utility commissioner and former newspaper publisher, to the FCC in 2009. She told members of the Senate Commerce Committee, during her confirmation hearing, that she opposed the fairness doctrine.
The younger Clyburn previously served as interim FCC Chair until Commissioner Tom Wheeler was confirmed as Chairman. Wheeler, who inherited the study from Clyburn, ordered the removal of questions about news philosophy and editorial judgment after the outcry on Thursday, reports the Washington Post.
The offices of both Jim and Mignon did not respond to a request for comment.