Political officers in the newsroom?
This week’s Big Brother freakout comes to us courtesy of the Federal Communications Commission, which is making a strong argument for its own dissolution, because we really don’t need an agency with enough time on its hands to conclude it should be planting political officers in American newsrooms. Fox News has better reasons than most to worry about commissars frowning at them over clipboards during editorial meetings:
Critics of a proposed Federal Communications Commission study that would send researchers into newsrooms across America say the new chairman’s vow to tweak the plan doesn’t go far enough — with one leading media group calling on the agency to scrap the study entirely.
“Where it really needs to go is onto the trash heap,” Mike Cavender, director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, said in a statement.
The FCC drew the ire of free-press advocates and lawmakers after proposing a “study of critical information needs,” which one dissenting commissioner said would let researchers “grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run.”
GOP lawmakers warned the program essentially would become the “Fairness Doctrine 2.0,” in reference to a long-abandoned policy requiring broadcasters to provide what was deemed balanced coverage of major issues.
What a depressing lack of imagination, GOP leaders! This nonsense is tons worse than the Fairness Doctrine, which was mostly used to bully broadcasters out of taking controversial editorial stands. These new political officers would be used to modify news coverage itself, terrorizing media organizations into paying more attention to whatever Big Brother decides is most relevant… particularly for “underserved populations,” whose level of underservice would of course be defined by the mega-government that loves them so very much.
The Fox report includes a hat tip to FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, who deserves a round of applause from all freedom-loving Americans for exposing this little scheme in the Wall Street Journal. “The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories,” wrote Pai. Yeah, well, it’s got no place pressuring celibate nuns into buying condoms, either, but here we are.
Pai clues us in to a new linguistic tool of tyranny, “Critical Information Needs,” or CIN. These are the things Big Brother thinks everyone needs to know about. The real fun will come when the commissars begin deciding which Non-Critical Information Needs you don’t need to hear about. You’ll be shocked by how neatly these decisions align with whatever the Ruling Class wants you to obsess over, or ignore.
The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”
How does the FCC plan to dig up all that information? First, the agency selected eight categories of “critical information” such as the “environment” and “economic opportunities,” that it believes local newscasters should cover. It plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their “news philosophy” and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.
The FCC also wants to wade into office politics. One question for reporters is: “Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?” Follow-up questions ask for specifics about how editorial discretion is exercised, as well as the reasoning behind the decisions.
Participation in the Critical Information Needs study is voluntary—in theory. Unlike the opinion surveys that Americans see on a daily basis and either answer or not, as they wish, the FCC’s queries may be hard for the broadcasters to ignore. They would be out of business without an FCC license, which must be renewed every eight years.
How can any American read those paragraphs without a chill running down your spine? Especially when you consider how eagerly left-leaning media outlets who already see things Big Brother’s way would cooperate with the initially “voluntary” standards. The pressure on everyone else to fall in line would quickly grow enormous, as if the 800-pound gorilla of the FCC politely asking these questions, while idly flicking a cigarette lighter under your broadcast license, wasn’t bad enough.
They’d even be going after people who don’t have “broadcast licenses” – newspapers, magazines, and websites. The resulting mountain of “voluntary” information would surely find its way into the hands of regime-friendly media outlets, who would begin screaming about the crisis of Critical Information Needs going unmet at dissident newspapers and networks, and wondering why somebody doesn’t do something about it.
Even if we avoid anything as ham-fisted as the Fairness Doctrine was, this is the kind of information that can be rolled into a cudgel and used to deliver a sound public-relations thrashing to outlets that have divergent notions about how to manage news coverage. “The big story today on MSNBC is the latest devastating Federal Communications Report that says Fox News is spending far too much time obsessing over the irrelevant details of Hillary Clinton’s past. Should Fox be allowed to underserve its viewers like this? After the break, we’ll have on three liberal pundits and a washed-up comedian for a 20-minute conniption fit. Stay tuned!”
This is a profoundly disturbing idea, a waste of resources by our beyond-broke government, and yet another example of the mission creep that turns every aquarium-bred federal agency into a giant squid with thousand-mile-long tentacles. It’s scandalous that the idea was even discussed. It seems like a bit of walkback is already under way. Keep walking it back until it falls off a cliff.