Although the Federal Communications Commission has already indicated it is reworking a survey that was criticized both inside and outside the regulatory agency because it sought information about news operations of radio and TV broadcasters, a prominent lawmaker wants the study killed outright.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and chairman of the House Subcommittee of Communications and Technology, is working on a bill that would stop the FCC from proceeding with its Critical Information Needs study.
The CIN study was to start in the spring with a pilot test in Columbia, S.C., and included inquiries into the decision-making process with regards to reporting news. The survey also was to ask about how certain topics, including the environment, are covered. In addition, the survey was to ask about areas of contention between journalists and management over news coverage.
Conducted every three years for Congress, the CIN study seeks information about how to best eliminate barriers that discourage entrepreneurs and small-business owners from entering the broadcast news industry.
The inclusion of questions about the editorial operations of media overseen by the government infuriated many lawmakers who saw it as a threat to the 1st Amendment.
“The very existence of this CIN study is an affront to the 1st Amendment and should have never been proposed in the first place," Walden said. "The study should be eradicated completely.”
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai raised alarms about the potential chilling effect the survey could have. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Pai wrote, "the government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories."
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who inherited the survey from his predecessor Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who briefly served as acting chairman, said questions having to do with editorial and news operations would be stricken from the survey. Wheeler told members of Congress concerned about the study that, "the commission has no business probing the news media's editorial judgment and expertise."
On Wednesday, FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said he too was concerned about some of the questions on the survey and advocated ending it.
"If any value was ever to come from this particular exercise, that ship has sailed. It is probably time to cancel the CIN study for good,” O'Rielly said.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.