News Column

FCC to Suspend, Redesign Newsroom Content Survey

February 22, 2014

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The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it will suspend and redesign a study of U.S. news content that critics said would restrict political speech.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had defended the study, saying it was intended to help the commission meet its obligation under federal law to identify and eliminate "market-entry barriers for entrepreneurs and other small businesses in the provision and ownership of telecommunications services and information services."

Critics -- including U.S. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- said analyzing broadcast content would restrict political speech of journalists by reviving the Fairness Doctrine, the one-time set of rules that required broadcasters to air opposing viewpoints on major issues that was formally eliminated in 2011.

FCC member Ajit Pai, a Republican, raised alarms about the study in a commentary last week in the Wall Street Journal, saying the effort would "thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country."

In a letter to Upton, Wheeler said the FCC has a statutory obligation to "identify market barriers" and promote policies "favoring diversity of media voices."

FCC spokeswoman Shannon Gibbs announced Friday the commission will suspend the study and replace it with one in which journalists will not have to answer questions about their work, the Hill reported.

She said Wheeler "agreed that survey questions in the study directed toward media outlet managers, news directors, and reporters overstepped the bounds of what is required."

"Any subsequent market studies conducted by the FCC, if determined necessary, will not seek participation from or include questions for media owners, news directors or reporters," Gibbs said.

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Original headline: FCC to suspend, redesign newsroom content survey

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