Rep. wants newsroom study 'eradicated'

Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are working on a bill that would permanently block the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from conducting a study of how journalists do their job.

The FCC’s plans to pull the plug on the “critical information needs” study for the time being aren’t enough, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said on Tuesday.

“To date, [FCC] Chairman [Tom] Wheeler has insisted upon only making small tweaks, and what he has proposed to do isn’t enough. The study should be eradicated completely,” said Walden, chairman of the subcommittee on Communication and Technology, in a statement.

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“The potential for violation of the First Amendment is exceptionally egregious, but it is also concerning that the commission believes it can prescribe what ‘critical information needs’ are in communities across the country.”

Walden added that his subcommittee will also hold a hearing on the controversial study, though a date has not been set.

A pilot program of the FCC’s planned study, first announced last year, would have asked reporters, producers and other journalists in Columbia, S.C., about their philosophy for covering the news and selecting stories. The effort would have gone toward an FCC analysis of barriers preventing some companies from entering the media market, which the commission is required to send to Congress every three years.

The study prompted a backlash, especially from Republicans who claimed that the FCC was trying to insert itself in newsrooms and bring back the Fairness Doctrine, a now-dead rule requiring that controversial subjects are covered from both sides.

The outrage reached a tipping point last week, when the FCC said that it would redesign the study so that journalists are not asked to participate.

Republican lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee in December sent Wheeler a letter with seven questions, which they claim the chairman has not yet answered.