Home | Opinion | Dick Morris

Dick Morris: Obama vs. First Amendment

Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission is about to launch a direct assault on the freedom of the media to cover news as it chooses. The program, called the Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs, involves requesting information from all radio and TV stations, as well as newspapers, about how they cover news, who decides what gets covered, and what criteria they use in the decision. The FCC will also conduct a “content analysis” of one week’s coverage to decide whether each of eight “critical” categories of news is being given adequate attention.

While the results of the study will not impose mandatory changes on the media’s news decisions, the “recommendations” from the FCC will carry the weight of law because all radio and television stations must come up for license renewal every eight years. Newspapers, which are clearly outside the jurisdiction of the FCC, are under no such constraint, but will be evaluated anyway.

ADVERTISEMENT
The study is in response to another study, conducted by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, which found that minorities were not being adequately served by media news and that critical areas were being under covered.

No surprise, the “critical areas” include such liberal topics as the environment and economic opportunity.

The first market to undergo a grilling will be Columbia, S.C., but all areas of the country are slated for scrutiny

Surveys will be distributed to reporters, news editors, assignment editors, publishers, owners, on-air reporters, film editors and other station or newspaper staff. These are the questions they will ask:

• What is the news philosophy of the station? 

• Who else in your market provides news? 

• Who are your main competitors? 

• How much news does your station air every day? 

•Is the news produced in-house or is it provided by an outside source? 

• Do you employ news people? 

• How many reporters and editors do you employ? 

• Do you have any reporters or editors assigned to topic “beats”? If so, how many and what are the beats? 

• Who decides which stories are covered? 

• How much influence do you have in deciding which stories to cover? 

•How much influence do reporters and anchors have in deciding which stories to cover? 

•How much does community input influence news coverage decisions? 

• How do you define critical information that the community needs? 

•How do you ensure the community gets this critical information? 

• Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers (viewers, listeners, readers) that was rejected by management? If so, can you give an example? What was the reason given for the decision? Why do you disagree?

These intrusive questions, which pry into station politics and policies, can only send a chilling message to radio and television outlets. 

If radio and television stations do not do a good job of reporting news, their ratings will suffer. If they do not do a good job of reporting the news the government wants them to report, that’s none of the government’s business.

The day is long gone when communities were dependent on one radio or one television station or one newspaper for their news. The Internet and cable television have changed all that. But the FCC acts as if the new age had not dawned. 

Is it that they don’t know? Or is it, more likely, that they want to push the media to cover the Obama administration agenda?

As this project goes forth, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is circulating a petition in Congress to urge the networks to devote more time to covering climate change.

The First Amendment is under attack!

Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.

More in Dick Morris

Dick Morris: Midterms killed Iran deal

Read more »