FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn defended the controversial “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs” (CIN) newsroom study in a speech at the Media Institute 2/26. The proposed FCC study of how media organizations gather news incited a powerful backlash from both liberal and conservative media and pundits, who said that it could be part of an official effort to intimidate or second-guess journalists.
Faced with an outcry, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said 2/21 that he would amend the effort — intended to assess whether the news media were meeting the public’s “critical information needs”— by removing questions that critics had deemed invasive.
The FCC last year proposed an analysis of news content from newspapers, Web sites and radio and TV stations. The agency said it wanted to assess the coverage of eight “critical information” subjects, including public health, politics, transportation, the environment and “economic opportunities.”
As the survey was originally designed, government researchers would have asked reporters, anchors and news managers at as many as 280 news organizations to describe their outlet’s “news philosophy” and about how they selected stories.
Wheeler inherited this project from Clyburn. She mentioned on 2/26 CIN was meant to help the Commission make a sound regulatory decision and that the study was designed to help the FCC make media policy without operating in a data vacuum: “As a person who spent 14 years running a small weekly, I would never, ever, be a part of any effort to chill speech, shape the news, or influence news gatherers…I am about facilitating ownership and opportunities and making sound decisions about our most critical industries, based on solid research and not rhetoric.”
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly issued a statement: House and Senate Republicans, along with Commissioner Ajit Pai, have voiced their serious concerns about the Commission’s Critical Information Needs (CIN) study. While I was not at the Commission when the study was authorized, I share those concerns. I appreciate the Chairman’s willingness to make revisions, but I am afraid that tweaking it is just not enough. If any value was ever to come from this particular exercise, that ship has sailed. It is probably time to cancel the CIN study for good.”
Meanwhile Congressman Greg Walden says he plans to introduce legislation squashing the CIN study.