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Is the FCC hitting the mute button?

February 20, 2014

If I had a government minder standing behind me as I write this, do you think I might feel intimidated?  I’ll answer that one myself. Yes.

Do you think that the FCC’s “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs” or CIN  would have a similar effect in a broadcast newsroom?  Or even more interesting,  newspapers?

One of the freedoms  that Americans have enjoyed, courtesy of that oft-ridiculed document, the Constitution, is freedom of the press.

Biased news coverage has been around as long as people have been able to read and write. All points of view have their media podiums, and they have always used them. In the 21st century we have more of them than ever before.

In an opinion piece published February 10, 2014, Ajit Pai, one of the five FCC commissioners and the only one to vote against the study, questions why the FCC is studying “perceived station bias”. According to the piece, the FCC selected eight categories that it would “study” and recommend that stations cover. Mr. Pai also states that the agency plans to investigate, er, study “the process by which stories are selected”.

I would submit that if you want to know what the bias of the particular news or information outlet is, watch their programming. Some are unabashedly liberal, some are unabashedly conservative , while others try to give both sides equal time to espouse their views. The question is, are any of those biases illegal? 

Presumably, if you disagree with the slant of the news, you don’t watch the station. If you are a business buying advertising, you might prefer to buy advertising on a station that matches your political views.

No government study, and the FCC is a government agency, is commissioned without having a stated goal in mind. The language of this study and its eight categories as so far reported leaves little doubt as to the goals behind this study.

It is somewhat disingenuous to believe that all station personnel, when being “surveyed”, are just going to answer “no comment” or “none of the above” even if they are allowed to do so. The FCC is the licensing agency for all of these outlets. Getting a “F” in cooperating with them would probably have serious consequences the next time the station license comes up for renewal. In the world of broadcasting, the FCC is the equivalent of the IRS.

In the past six or so years, one political  faction has made it clear that they do not appreciate differences of opinion. This study just takes that distaste to the next level.

An awful lot of what passes for news today is drivel. I personally don’t give a damn about what Justin Bieber or Rob Ford did or didn’t do today. But I do give a damn about  a news outlet’s right  to cover it. I have an index finger, and if I don’t want to watch, I can hit the mute or off button on the remote. I don’t want the government to do it for me. 

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