FCC Versus Free Speech

FCC Versus Free Speech

For centuries, our nation’s press has become accustomed to exercising its own news and editorial judgments largely free from government interference. It’s all part of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press. But now, all of that could be about to change, if Obama administration officials have their way.

In May 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced its intention to proceed with what it described as a “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs” that would probe into how members of the news media make editorial decisions on the stories they cover. At the time, the FCC said the “pilot” study would enable the agency “to ascertain the process by which stories are selected… perceived station bias… and perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.” [Emphasis added] Government officials would, of course, determine what they perceive as “bias” and who they decide are “underserved populations.”

Here are some of the invasive—and, in fact, chilling—questions FCC Critical Information Needs (CIN) agents were to ask private news media companies, some of whose broadcast licenses could depend upon providing the FCC the “right” answers:

  • “What is the news philosophy of the station?

  • “Who decides which stories are covered?”

  • “How much does community input influence news coverage decisions?”

  • “What are the demographics of the news management staff?”

  • “What are the demographics of the news production staff?”

The FCC plans also called for government monitors “crawling” the Internet sites of newspapers, local governments, blogs, non-profits, and citizen journalists. All of which is an affront to the law and the First Amendment.

One committee chairman in the House sent a letter demanding more information. In a December 2013 letter to the FCC, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) termed the CIN study an attempt “to control the political speech of journalists” and urged the agency to “put a stop to this most recent attempt to engage the FCC as the news police.” Since then? Crickets—from both Congress and the Obama gang (and, despicably, most of the liberal media).

That’s why on October 16, 2014, JW filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the FCC after it failed to respond to a FOIA request in February asking for:

Any and all records in the possession of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) relating to the Multi-Market Critical Information study to be conducted by the FCC, including, but not limited to, studies, memoranda and communications between FCC commissioners and/or staff members related to Multi-Market Critical Information Needs study.

We want to know exactly how the Obama-FCC overlords came up with their CIN interrogatories—and how high up this assault upon freedom of the press originated. Fortunately, we are not alone. The FCC’s hostility toward First Amendment freedoms has elicited a strong response from prominent voices. In a letter to the FCC, the National Association of Broadcasters is concerned about the “constitutional implications” of the FCC proposal. And FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, warned that the study would “thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country.”

In response to the controversy, the FCC in late February announced that it would suspend the study. The operative word there, of course, is “suspend” rather than “abandon.” Specifically, the FCC has also said it will no longer ask media outlets based in South Carolina to participate in a pilot program where they would be compelled to share their newsroom philosophy.

The problem of course, is that in Washington nothing is as it appears to be. So, while the study has supposedly been suspended, we still need to find out why it was initiated in the first place. The actions of the Obama administration have demonstrated a record of hostility to the First Amendment freedoms of citizens and the press. This much is evident in the latest Reporters Without Borders recent survey of world press freedom that now ranks the United States forty-sixth, below even that of Botswana and Romania and only one position above Haiti. Little wonder USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page told a White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) seminar on October 25 that the Obama administration is “more restrictive” and “more dangerous” to freedom of the press than any in history. You can ask James Rosen of Fox News about this. You can also ask the Associated Press. Both had their records rifled through on orders of a lying Attorney General Eric Holder or his minions.

Unfortunately, the study is simply the latest version of the “Fairness Doctrine,” a FCC regulatory scheme ended during the Reagan administration that was used to regulate political speech on radio and television. This time, true to the Obama administration’s racialist agenda, the FCC sought to pressure media under the guise of racial diversity and community organizing language. Given all this background, is it any surprise that President Obama recently endorsed the federal takeover of the Internet by the FCC?

This FCC scandal also echoes the Obama IRS abuse, which illegally targeted groups and individuals based upon their political philosophy. The FCC, which is charged with making sure regulated media companies obey the law, refuses to obey the Freedom of Information Act and tell the American people why it wanted to interrogate newsmen and monitor the blogs of everyday citizens. JW will continue to do the work of defending our freedom through this latest lawsuit to help keep the Obama FCC news police at bay.


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