Blog Post

Administration to Monitor U.S. Newsrooms

news anchorCommentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

In what some are calling an "absurdly draconian attempt to intimidate and control the media", the Obama Administration’s Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is floating the idea of placing government monitors in newsrooms across the country to determine what stories are being covered and why.

According to Matthew Clark of the American Center for Law and Justice, this news comes straight from the mouth of FCC Commissioner, Ajit Pai who revealed the program in an oped published in the Wall Street Journal.

"Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its 'Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,' or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring," Clark writes.

He goes on to explain that 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", "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations."

What most people may not realize, the FCC is actually expanding the bounds of its regulatory powers by including newspapers in its new government monitoring program. It only has authority over the broadcast industry, not cable news or print publications.

"The FCC has apparently already selected eight categories of 'critical information that it believes local newscasters should cover',” Clark continues.

"That’s right, the Obama Administration has developed a formula of what it believes the free press should cover, and it is going to send government monitors into newsrooms across America to stand over the shoulders of the press as they make editorial decisions."

One does not need to be a constitutional law professor to know that this program "poses a monumental danger to constitutionally protected free speech and freedom of the press," Clark says.

It appears that only the Administration's adoring media are surprised by this bombshell. The Administration has long been censoring the news. For instance, in addition to its long-standing snubbing of Fox News, which is one of the few media sources that features objective reporting, it has also had clashes with the San Francisco Chronicle after one of its reporters covered a protest against President Obama. They also engaged in a tussle with the Pleasanton Weekly after a reporter wrote a story the government felt reflected badly on the First Lady. This was in addition to the outrageous episode of an Orlando Sentinel reporter being locked in a closet during a fundraiser hosted by Vice President Joe Biden to prevent the reporter from speaking to the guests.

And who can forget last year's scandal involving the NSA's seizure of Associated Press phone records.

Perhaps this is why Reporters Without Borders recently listed the U.S. in 46th place in a global ranking of press freedom - which represents a 13 point drop in just the last year.

How many more points will it drop if this misguided program is allowed to go forward - and what might the world of news reporting look like?

"Imagine a government monitor telling Fox News it needed to cover stories in the same way as MSNBC or Al Jazeera," Clark writes.

"Imagine an Obama Administration official walking in to the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal and telling it that the American public would be better served if it is stopped reporting on the IRS scandal or maybe that reporting on ObamaCare 'glitches' is driving down enrollment. It’s hard to imagine anything more brazenly Orwellian than government monitors in newsrooms."

The Administration is now starting to pull back on the plan with an FCC official now saying it will be "closely reviewing the proposed research design to determine if an alternative approach is merited."

Even if this program goes away, who can rest easy knowing that people serving in the highest offices in the land are even considering such repressive policies?

The ACLJ has launched a petition drive to put a stop to this encroachment on American freedom. Click here to sign on!

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