Last week, Ajit Pai, a Republican nominee serving on the Federal Communications Commission, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he alleged that the FCC was planning to “send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run” in newsrooms all over the nation.
Predictably, the claim has been picked-up by all sorts of folks on the Right who are now warning that it is part of an attempt by the Obama administration to shut down conservative media outlets; most recently Glenn Beck, who spent a large portion of his radio broadcast today freaking out about it, at one point declaring that he would renounce his citizenship if this is what America is becoming:
As luck would have it, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler recently sent a letter to the chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee explaining that the right-wing fear-mongering over this study is totally overblown and inaccurate, as the FCC “has no intention of regulating political or other speech of journalists or broadcasters.”
As Wheeler explained, the FCC has a legal obligation to identify “market entry barriers for entrepreneurs and other small businesses in the provision and ownership of telecommunications services and information services” and make a report to Congress. The study in question aims to identify the “access/barriers to [Critical Information Needs] in diverse American communities” within “FCC regulated markets.”
Beneath all the jargon, as far as we can determine the study will allow the FCC to monitor “television, newspaper, radio, and Internet” reports in communities of varying sizes at various periods in order to determine if there are barriers in place in the given media market that are preventing entry by entrepreneurs and small businesses. As part of this study, researchers working on it will interview “corporate management, local management, and lower level employees” at various media outlets in order to “ascertain the process by which stories are selected, station priorities (for content, production quality, and populations served), perceived station bias, perceived percent of news dedicated to each of the eight CINs, and perceived responsiveness to under-served populations.”
The FCC is not going to be stationing agents in local news stations all over the country in order to monitor their reporting, as the Right has been frantically proclaiming. As Wheeler explained in his letter, the study is designed merely as “a tool intended to help the Commission consider effective, pro-competitive policies that would encourage new entrants” and is currently being modified so as “not [to] go beyond our responsibilities.”
Will this clarification from the FCC stop the Right from continuing to make feverishly overblown and politically charged claims about the study? If history is any indication, most certainly not.