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Letter to Tom Wheeler, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission - FCC Has No Place in the Newsroom

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, this week joined her Republican Senate colleagues in objecting to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) controversial proposal to conduct a study of U.S. newsroom practices and editorial decisions, a move that has been widely perceived as a potential attempt to influence decisions made by newsrooms across the country.

The FCC recently proposed a Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs (CIN Study), which would send agency researchers to question reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to cover, as well as "perceived station bias." While FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced last Friday that the study has been put on hold so that the FCC can redesign the questions posed to newsrooms, Ayotte and her colleagues say the study should not proceed under any circumstances.

"It is impossible to imagine a rationale for the Commission to consider using the CIN Study under any circumstance given its flagrantly unconstitutional implications," the Senators wrote. "We demand an explanation of how the Commission internally justified the CIN Study as fulfilling its statutory requirement to report on market barriers to entry, as well as the costs incurred by the Commission on this blatantly inappropriate study. We also insist all commissioners be involved in future statutorily required studies in order to guard against the clear potential for abuse."

The full text of the letter is below.

February 25, 2014

The Honorable Tom Wheeler
Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Wheeler:

We write to express our grave concerns regarding the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) defunct Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs ("CIN Study").

It is impossible to imagine a rationale for the Commission to consider using the CIN Study under any circumstance given its flagrantly unconstitutional implications. It is even more troubling that a Commission spokesperson attempted to justify the CIN Study as a report on barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and small businesses in the communications marketplace - particularly when consumers are free to obtain news and information from a vibrant diversity of sources, including multiple broadcast outlets, print media, cable networks, and the Internet.

The CIN Study, as it was originally envisioned, sought to collect information on the process by which stories are selected and even asked about "news philosophy." Such questions are wholly unacceptable and alarming because they invite government intrusion into editorial decisions. While we are relieved the Commission appears to have halted the CIN Study, it is nevertheless troubling the Commission was on schedule to begin using a study that grossly intrudes on the First Amendment as early as this spring. Indeed, it was not until the CIN Study received national headlines and earned broad condemnation that the Commission took steps to remedy a problem that should have never occurred in the first place.

We demand an explanation of how the Commission internally justified the CIN Study as fulfilling its statutory requirement to report on market barriers to entry, as well as the costs incurred by the Commission on this blatantly inappropriate study. We also insist all commissioners be involved in future statutorily required studies in order to guard against the clear potential for abuse.


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