FCC push to regulate news draws fire

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) pushed back on Monday against a contention by a Democratic FCC commissioner that the government should create new regulations to promote diversity in news programming. 

Barton was reacting to a proposal made last week by FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who in a speech suggested that broadcasters be subject to a new "public values test" every four years. 

"I hope … that you do not mean to suggest that it is the job of the federal government, through the [FCC], to determine the content that is available for Americans to consume,” Barton wrote Monday in a letter to Copps. 

Copps had suggested that the test would make a broadcaster's license renewal contingent upon proof that they meet a prospective set of federal criteria. 

He said outlets should be mandated to do the following: prove they have made a meaningful commitment to public affairs and news programming, prove they are committed to diversity programming (for instance, by showing that they depict women and minorities), report more to the government about which shows they plan to air, require greater disclosure about who funds political ads and devote 25 percent of their prime-time coverage to local news. 

The regulations would apply to all news outlets operating on the public airwaves.

In his letter, Barton questioned whether Copps believes the government should reinstate the defunct Fairness Doctrine, a controversial standard that required broadcast licensees to offer "balanced" coverage. Critics saw it as an affront to free speech. 

Barton also asked whether "five commissioners can do a better job of ensuring that Americans have access to a wide diversity of content and viewpoints than Americans can themselves by expressing their preferences ... in the vigorously competitive marketplace."

The Federal Communications Commission has an ongoing project about media diversity that promises to issue a report on whether Americans have access to adequate sources of news, but the effort has come under strong criticism and the FCC has not stated when the report will be released.