FCC media survey plan draws fire - KPTV - FOX 12

FCC media survey plan draws fire

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Survey would ask how coverage decisions are made in newsrooms. (Source: FOX) Survey would ask how coverage decisions are made in newsrooms. (Source: FOX)

WASHINGTON, DC (FOX) - A chilling story, no matter your politics.

The federal government wants to know how - and why - the news media select which stories they cover.

"Whenever I hear of government going into newsrooms to do anything other than deliver coffee I become frightened because government should not as a general rule be any part of journalism," said Professor John Watson of American University.

But that's exactly what the Federal Communications Commission - or FCC - wants to do, send investigators into television and radio stations to ask questions like, "What is the news philosophy of the station? Who decides which stories are covered?"

The stated purpose of the "multi-market study of critical information needs" is to determine how media outlets pick their stories, whether there is a perceived bias - and how responsive stations are to "under served populations."

News of the project so unnerved a group of House Republicans that they sent FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler a letter saying the proposal shows a "... startling disregard for .. the bedrock constitutional principles that prevent government intrusion into the press ..."

Adding, "The Commission has no business probing the news media's editorial judgment and expertise..."

The Radio Television Digital News Association - a professional media organization - calls the plan "ill-conceived" - "clearly an overreach" and says, " ... even the concept of a study like this is enough to chill every journalist and every station which prides itself on journalistic independence."

It's raising questions about whether the stations chosen to take part in the study have any right to refuse, given that the agency conducting the investigation is the same one that renews, or withholds, their licenses.

"How much government coercion might there be with this? Is the government trying to dictate free speech, dictate how journalists are suppose to be doing their jobs?" said Robert M. McDowell, former commissioner of the FCC.

Funding for the program has yet to be approved, and critics think the negative, public backlash may actually put that in jeopardy.

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