House Republicans are accusing the Federal Communications Commission of trying to revive the Fairness Doctrine, which required radio and TV stations to air opposing views on controversial issues.
The FCC revoked the doctrine in 1987, and the agency formally took the rule off the books in 2011.
But Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee claim the FCC is exploring new rules for news organizations through a study it announced earlier this year.
"Given the widespread calls for the Commission to respect the First Amendment and stay out of the editorial decisions of reporters and broadcasters, we were shocked to see that the FCC is putting itself back in the business of attempting to control the political speech of journalists," the Republicans wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Tuesday, warning the agency is moving toward a "Fairness Doctrine 2.0."
"It is wrong, it is unconstitutional, and we urge you to put a stop to this most recent attempt to engage the FCC as the 'news police.' "
Mark Wigfield, an FCC spokesman, said the agency is reviewing the letter and has no comment at this time.
The FCC hasn't proposed any new regulations for news organizations. The Republicans are referring to a little-noticed study the agency announced last month on "critical information needs."
The FCC is required by law to study ways to eliminate barriers to entry for media organizations.
"In order to assess whether government action is needed to ensure that the information needs of all Americans are being met, including women and minorities, it is necessary to understand how the public acquires critical information, how the media ecosystem operates to provide this information, and what barriers exist to participation," the FCC said when it announced that Columbia, S.C., will be the field test for the study.
But Republicans expressed alarm that the planned study will ask journalists and station owners about their news philosophy and story selection process.
"The proposed design for the CIN Study shows a startling disregard for not only the bedrock constitutional principles that prevent government intrusion into the press and other news media, but also for the lessons learned by the Commission's experience with the Fairness Doctrine," the lawmakers wrote.
The letter was signed by Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), along with all of the Republican members of the Communications and Technology subcommittee.
They asked Wheeler to explain how the requirement to study barriers to entry justifies questioning media organizations about editorial decisions. They also asked whether the study will inform the FCC's review of rules limiting the number of radio and TV stations a single company can own and what steps the FCC is taking to protect First Amendment rights.
The FCC commissioners will likely face questioning about the study at Thursday's oversight hearing before the Communications and Technology subcommittee.