AP, NYT AWOL on FCC's Newsroom Snooping Proposal

On Thursday, Kyle Drennen at NewsBusters noted that none of the three broadcast networks had covered the intent of the Federal Communications Commission, in the words of Byron York at the Washington Examiner, to "send government contractors into the nation's newsrooms to determine whether journalists are producing articles, television reports, Internet content, and commentary that meets the public's 'critical information needs.'"

Given that the nets take many of their new prioritization cues from the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, and to a lesser extent from the New York Times, it shouldn't surprise anyone that searches at the self-described "essential global news network" and at the Old Gray Lady indicate that neither outlet has covered it. The FCC has supposedly backtracked, but not really, as Katy Bachman at AdWeek noted yesterday (bolds are mine throughout this post):


UPDATE, Feb. 20: The Federal Communications Commission told GOP lawmakers that the agency has "no intention" of interfering in the editorial decision-making of broadcast stations and newspapers.

In a letter released today, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler confirmed that the agency is working on revisions to the Critical Information Needs Study, which as part of its conclusions called for researchers to enter newsrooms and inquire about how editorial decisions were made.

"The commission has no intention of regulating political or other speech of journalists or broadcasters by way of this research design, any resulting study, or through any other means," Wheeler wrote.

But what Wheeler didn't say in his letter is that it would drop the controversial study that had its researchers question the decisions of journalists, producers and other news staff, leaving lawmakers less than fully satisfied. He did, however, concede that modifications might be necessary.

"We are pleased to see chairman Wheeler recognizes the gravity of our concerns and has accordingly made progress toward ensuring that First Amendment protections remain in place for journalists," said Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the commerce committee and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the communications and technology subcommittee. "Before moving forward, however, it is imperative that the FCC ensure that any study, with any agents on its behalf, stays out of newsrooms."

No one can be confident of that unless the study is killed — and even that might not provide enough assurance.

Chairman Wheeler has a funny way of "cooperating," as seen in his reaction to a recent federal court ruling on "net neutrality":

FCC: We're Not Done With Net Neutrality

FCCtomWheeler

Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler is moving ahead with a new version of rules promoting net neutrality, despite last month's decision by a federal appeals court to strike them down.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit didn't agree with FCC's legal reasoning, and said the FCC doesn't have the authority to carry out rules preventing broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing websites and services. The D.C. Circuit court rejected Verizon's claim that the FCC lacks jurisdiction over broadband providers, but also prohibited an attempt by the FCC to regulate the company under common carrier rules, which are typically used for phone companies. The FCC had elected to exempt broadband providers from common carrier rules, and therefore, could not treat them as such.

In other words, Wheeler is going to rework what the court prohibited and hope he gets a favorable ruling when, and maybe if, it gets litigated again.

This appears to be no different than the Obama administration's reaction to a judge's ruling blocking the its offshore drilling moratorium in 2010. Instead of complying, it simply instituted a second drilling moratorium. The administration was held in contempt for having done so. If anyone has suffered personally or professionally for being involved in this episode of open defiance, I'm not aware of it.

Wheeler's reaction to the media practices study is basically this: "We're going to rework it, lay low, and look for an opportune time to bring it back. But in the meantime, we did a great job of putting the press on notice that they need to clean up their act to our liking, didn't we?"

How disgraceful.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.