After much criticism from conservative quarters, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided, at least for now, to withdraw plans for its proposed study of how media organizations gather and report news. The expressed goal of the survey was to determine if the "critical information needs" of the public are being met. In making the announcement on Friday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler indicated the survey would be "revised" and that the government agency had "no intention" of regulating political speech of journalists or other broadcasters.
You couldn't prove that from reading the initial study.
The obvious question is: Who gets to define my or your "information needs"? The answer begins with two universities commissioned by the FCC to conduct the study: the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Communication and Democracy and the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. Both associated with a liberal political philosophy.
The reasoning behind this proposed newsroom intrusion is that certain categories of the public ("underserved" consumers in multiple "media ecologies" in the bureaucratese of the study) may not be getting enough "balance" in its news diet.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, daughter of Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), says the FCC "must emphatically insist that we leave no American behind when it comes to meeting the needs of those in varied and vibrant communities of our nation -- be they native born, immigrant, disabled, non-English speaking, low-income, or other." But not, apparently, political conservatives, regular churchgoers, or patriotic Americans who believe their beliefs are "underserved" by most journalists. Seemingly, no one at the FCC cares overmuch if this particular "constituency" is underserved.
That there has been little more than a low decibel outcry from mainstream media about the FCC study is instructive. It is difficult to imagine Ms. Clyburn and her minions storming into network newsrooms, demanding to know how many conservatives are reporting the news. I once asked Lesley Stahl of CBS News if she could name a single conservative colleague. She could not. Maybe those concerned with our supposed news malnutrition can start at CBS.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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