Thursday, February 13, 2014

FCC Commissioner Pai Warns Of 'News Police'

Ajit Pai
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published online Monday, Ajit Pai, a Republican FCC commissioner, said the agency is taking a "dangerous" first step toward "newsroom policing" in the style of the now-defunct Fairness Doctrine, according to the  Under the controversial doctrine, which the FCC abandoned in 1987 and formally took off the books in 2011, the agency required radio and TV stations to air opposing views on controversial issues.

Pai expressed alarm that the FCC could soon start questioning why Fox spends so much time covering the attacks in Benghazi, or why NBC has focused on the controversy over lane closures in New Jersey.

House Republicans made a similar accusation in December, claiming the FCC was working on a "Fairness Doctrine 2.0."

The controversy stems from a study the agency plans to conduct on "critical information needs." The FCC is required by law to study ways to eliminate barriers to entry for small media businesses.

Among other things, the agency plans to ask radio/TV journalists about their "news philosophy" and "the process by which stories are selected." The study will gather data on "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations." The FCC also wants to examine how local TV stations cover "critical information" such as "economic opportunities" and the "environment."

In his op-ed, Pai described the FCC's proposal as sending "researchers to grill reporters, editors, and station owners about how they decide which stories to run."

Responding to the questions is entirely voluntary—although Pai suggested that stations will feel pressured to participate because they depend on FCC licenses to operate.

The FCC is not proposing any new rules to restrict the content of TV stations, and the commission has said the study is just part of a routine process of gathering information about the Radio/TV industry.

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