FCC in disturbing push to regulate the news

The concept of the news or press has expanded to include all forms of media – print and digital. However, the one common denominator shared by news media is that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seems to think all should meet a prospective set of federal criteria.

In the midst of the WikiLeaks scandal and the reactionary calls for mass censorship, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) questioned the idea from a Democratic FCC commissioner that the government should create new regulations to “promote” diversity in news programming.


Barton was reacting to a recommendation made last week by FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who suggested in a speech that broadcasters should be subjected to a new, get this: “public values test” every four years.


“I hope … that you do not mean to suggest that it is the job of the federal government, through the [FCC], to determine the content that is available for Americans to consume,” Barton said this Monday in a letter to Copps obtained by The Hill.


Copps has suggested that his proposed test would make a broadcaster’s license renewal depend upon showing proof that they meet a prospective set of federally mandated criteria.


Copps said that those groups that wish to be considered news outlets should be mandated to do the following: prove that they have made a commitment to public affairs and news programming (like showing a proper ratio of women and minorities), report to the government about which shows they are planning on airing, require greater disclosure about who is funding political ads and devote 25 percent of their prime coverage to local news stories.


It is doubtful that anyone would be able to escape the FCC’ grasp under the proposed rules since the regulations would apply to all news outlets operating on the public airwaves.


Like we’ve seen recently with WikiLinks, there are a good amount of politicians who consider the Internet to be public airwaves, and who feel that government should have a monopoly on deciding what happens over those airwaves.  


Barton questioned whether Copps believes the government should reinstate the obsolete Fairness Doctrine, which was a controversial set of rules that required broadcasters to offer “balanced” coverage. The critics saw it as a serious offense to the First Amendment.


Barton also asked if “five commissioners can do a better job of ensuring that Americans have access to a wide diversity of content and viewpoints than Americans can themselves by expressing their preferences … in the vigorously competitive marketplace.”


The FCC has a project that is ongoing about media diversity that promises to issue a report on whether or not Americans have access to adequate sources of news.

The effort has seen strong criticism and the FCC has not said when their report will be released.