FCC’s Clyburn defends newsroom study

A Democrat on the Federal Communications Commission is defending the agency’s controversial study of newsroom practices.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who designed the initial study as acting FCC chairman last year, said the study of newsroom practices was an attempt by the agency to better understand, not control, the industries it regulates, including the news industry. 

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The study has seen backlash from Republicans concerned about the chilling affect it could have on the country’s newsrooms, prompting current FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to scale the study back. 

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee on Communications, said he would hold a hearing and introduce legislation to prohibit similar FCC studies in the future.

Speaking at a Media Institute event Wednesday, Clyburn said those fears were overblown.

"The goal for this study is to give us a better ... foundation for the decisions that are before us. It will be very difficult to make any type of sound regulatory decision … in a data vacuum," she said.

“Understanding the markets that we regulate is necessary, it is critical and it is urgent."

Clyburn pushed back against the vocal critics of the agency and the study who claim that it is an attempt to influence news outlets.

“I would never, ever, ever be a part of any effort to chill speech, shape the news or influence” those gathering the news, she said.

The design of the study was first unveiled last May, allowing critics to voice their concerns, as part of the agency’s “transparent and public” process, Clyburn said.

“I put the design out for public comment to gain the type of public feedback that is needed,” she said. As a result, “the types of questions that have been getting a lot of attention over the last few weeks are going to not be included.”

Clyburn said the commission is “still evaluating” how effective the study will be with the controversial questions removed. She said she hopes the necessary data “can be gleaned without those questions.”