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A Friendly Visit From the FCC

Those friendly folks at the Federal Communications Commission are planning a visit to your local newsroom, and it will be interesting to see what kind of reception they’ll receive. If they drop by here we’ll be tempted to greet them with a combination of the First and Second Amendments, but we worry they’ll be greeted cordially at the more respectable publications.
The visits are entirely voluntary and merely a matter of intellectual curiosity, we are assured, and intended only to gather helpful information about how the various media decide which stories to report. More specifically, they hope to find out about the “processes” radio and televisions stations use in making their editorial judgments and how often they provide the “critical information needs” of news consumers. It strikes us as chilling that the government now concerns itself with the thoughts underlying the perfectly legal and openly expressed opinions of the media, and has already reached its own conclusions about what information citizens critically need, and one wonders how “voluntary” an invitation can be when issued by the agency that grants a newsroom license to broadcast, but we are assured this is merely right-wing paranoia.
Such assurances would be more reassuring if the government hadn’t lately been using the Internal Revenue Service to harrass the administration’s political opponents, the Department of Justice hadn’t been treating reporters’ investigative journalism as a criminal conspiracy, the National Security Agency wasn’t snooping around Americans’ phone records, and the United States hadn’t recently dropped another 13 spots to 46th place on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom rankings. Our concerns do seem relegated to the conservative corners of the media, judging by the sources of the scant attention being paid to the FCC’s plans, but the quietude of the rest makes it all the more troubling.
The Fox New Network is on the story, possibly because they’re the ones whose reporters have treated as criminal co-conspirators and excluded from the White House news pool and routinely criticized by every level of the administration, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and the radio talk shows have been paying some attention for obvious reasons of their own, but otherwise the story has gone largely unnoted. In our years of journalism we endured many a journalist’s self-righteous sermon about the obligation of the press to bravely resist any governmental interference, but that was mostly during Republican administrations, when nothing like the FCC’s current curiosity and the nation’s slide down the rankings of press freedom ever occurred, and at this moment of hope and change none of the over-the-air networks seem terribly concerned that their notions of the news consumers’ critical information needs will differ much from the government’s.
There’s little chance that the FCC will bother with such far-flung internet publications as this, but if they take a mind to we will save the taxpayers the cost of a visit. We select the stories we write about by a process of finding something that piques our interest or provides an opportunity for embittered satire, and we believe that Americans critically need to be informed that the government is getting too nosy and bossy, and that freedom of the press shall not be abridged.

— Bud Norman

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