It’s creepy enough to begin with that there is an agency called the “Federal Communications Commission” — as if communications are something that the government should be allowed to regulate. The original justification for this — that the spectrum is limited and must be managed by the government for the public good — is laughable in a world where you have 400 channels more than you ever watch. But these are general concerns, and I raise here a very specific concern, which is raised by a WSJ article noted by Ace (thanks to MD in Philly):
News organizations often disagree about what Americans need to know. MSNBC, for example, apparently believes that traffic in Fort Lee, N.J., is the crisis of our time. Fox News, on the other hand, chooses to cover the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi more heavily than other networks. The American people, for their part, disagree about what they want to watch.
But everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.
Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission, where I am a commissioner, does not agree. Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.
The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”
How does the FCC plan to dig up all that information? First, the agency selected eight categories of “critical information” such as the “environment” and “economic opportunities,” that it believes local newscasters should cover. It plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their “news philosophy” and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.
The FCC also wants to wade into office politics. One question for reporters is: “Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?” Follow-up questions ask for specifics about how editorial discretion is exercised, as well as the reasoning behind the decisions.
Participation in the Critical Information Needs study is voluntary—in theory. Unlike the opinion surveys that Americans see on a daily basis and either answer or not, as they wish, the FCC’s queries may be hard for the broadcasters to ignore. They would be out of business without an FCC license, which must be renewed every eight years.
The proper answer to questions from the federal government, to the media, such as “how are you serving underserved populations?” and “tell us the editorial process by which you decide to cover important issues like the environment and economic opportunities” is the same answer employers should give when asked to sign illegal certifications on their tax forms. It rhymes with “muck you” and begins with an “f.” If you’re still in the dark, ask mommy.
But once you give the government power of inquiry over media editorial decisions, and power to coerce statements or behavior from employers regarding their hiring numbers, you’ve given up the game. Liberty is a joke. Which is why it’s increasingly frustrating to write a blog. The administration does crazier and crazier things, and nobody seems to care except a small handful of people.
As a nation, we deserve what we’re getting. The few good states like Texas should secede. But that’s a whole ‘nother post.