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House Republicans Vow Hearing, Legislation to Prevent FCC Newsroom Study

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler last week vowed not to proceed with plans to question media owners, news directors and journalists on the information needs of communities, but House Republicans on Tuesday vowed to move forward with legislation and a hearing to “eradicate” any future studies like it.

By law, the FCC is required to report to Congress every three years on the barriers that may prevent entrepreneurs and small businesses from competing in the media marketplace, in what is called a “critical information needs” study. To implement the study, the FCC planned a pilot program in Columbia, S.C., yet a set of proposed questions for newsrooms caused a furor, particularly on the right. FCC commissioner Ajit Pai was particularly critical, writing an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that took aim at plans to survey stations on how they select which stories to cover.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), chairman of the House communications and technology subcommittee, said that “the very existence of this CIN study is an affront to the First Amendment and should have never been proposed in the first place.” He expressed some dissatisfaction with Wheeler’s plans to abandon questions for newsrooms, calling them “small tweaks.” “The study should be eradicated completely,” he said.

“It took nearly 25 years to get the Fairness Doctrine off the books once it had been ‘eliminated’ in 1987, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure this study or any other effort to control the output of America’s newsrooms never sees the light of day,” Walden added.

On Friday, FCC spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said that Wheeler “agreed that survey questions in the study directed toward media outlet managers, news directors, and reporters overstepped the bounds of what is required.” Nevertheless, she said that the FCC is proceeding with a pilot study, although it will not proceed until a new design is created.

“Any suggestion that the FCC intends to regulate the speech of news media or plans to put monitors in America’s newsrooms is false,” she said.

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