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FCC Backs Off on Scheme to Regulate the Press

For the last several days, I have been accumulating information about the extraordinary plan, launched by the Democratic majority of the Federal Communications Commission, apparently without input or even knowledge on the part of the Commission’s Republicans, to survey radio and television stations, as well as newspapers (over which the FCC has no jurisdiction) with respect to their editorial news judgments. Many observers saw the FCC’s project as the prelude to an effort to push news reporting even farther to the left. See Mark Steyn, Byron York and Tammy Bruce, for a few among many such examples. If you want the details of what the FCC proposed to do, at least as a first step, check out this report by Social Solutions International, which contracted with the FCC.

But it looks as though I won’t have to denounce the FCC after all. A little while ago, the Commission announced that in response to widespread criticism of its editorial monitoring initiative, it is canceling the program. The Commission’s press release is here:

[I]n the course of FCC review and public comment, concerns were raised that some of the questions may not have been appropriate. Chairman 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.

To be clear, media owners and journalists will no longer be asked to participate in the Columbia, S.C. pilot study. The pilot will not be undertaken until a new study design is final. Any subsequent market studies conducted by the FCC, if determined necessary, will not seek participation from or include questions for media owners, news directors or reporters.

The FCC continues to deny that its intent was to move toward regulation of the news:

Any suggestion that the FCC intends to regulate the speech of news media or plans to put monitors in America’s newsrooms is false. The FCC looks forward to fulfilling its obligation to Congress to report on barriers to entry into the communications marketplace, and is currently revising its proposed study to achieve that goal.

The FCC is required by law to report periodically to Congress on barriers that “may prevent entrepreneurs and small business from competing in the media marketplace.” The problem is that the massive study that the FCC proposed to undertake with regard to editorial news judgment had no bearing at all on such barriers to entry. In any event, whether you believe the Democrats’ disclaimers or not, the controversial project has been canceled.

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