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Intrusive FCC idea gets the ax it deserves

What could be so outrageous that Republicans and the conservative blogosphere are lighting up in defense of the mainstream media?

A plan the federal government planned to hatch that would have been an intolerable invasion by Big Brother, regardless of which party was in power. The idea was misguided enough to earn a bipartisan backlash even though it was birthed on one side of the aisle.

The Federal Communications Commission, currently controlled by Democrats, was organizing an effort to go into America’s newsrooms to see if they are providing the public with the information the government thinks they need. Starting this spring with eight stations in Columbia, S.C., and expanding to as many as 280 print and broadcast newsrooms nationwide, FCC contractors were to probe how editors decide what’s news and how they report it.

Faced with mounting disparagement of the idea, the FCC pulled the plug late Friday. It said it would not conduct the pilot program in Columbia until the program was redesigned, and that any replacement plan would not involve quizzing reporters and editors about their news judgment.

This, of course, was the only sensible thing to do. But there was no indication that the FCC had any intention of slowing down until the public and the press demanded it. That effort escalated quickly after a Republican FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, lambasted the idea in a Wall Street Journal column on Feb. 10.

The FCC had decided Americans have eight “critical information needs.” They are, the FCC said: “information about emergencies and risks; health and welfare; education; transportation; economic opportunities; the environment; civic information and political information.”

Was this a nefarious plot to control the message the public receives? That seems like a stretch, but it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see how such meddling in private newsrooms could have quickly crossed the line. Would the FCC, which controls access to the public airwaves, have applied subtle or overt pressure on journalists to cover, say, the environment or education or “economic opportunities” in the light the current administration thinks is “critical” for the public?

The idea that the Obama administration could essentially take over the nation’s newsrooms is far-fetched. Perhaps journalists and much of the public wouldn’t assume the worst if President Obama’s administration hadn’t already established itself as the most egregious in generations when it comes to fostering government secrecy, prosecuting leakers and targeting journalists. Throw in the NSA’s tactics and an overzealous IRS and it’s not surprising that the FCC’s plan was viewed with suspicion.

The whole project was a waste of time and money in addition to a threat to the First Amendment. The FCC was right to finally kill it.

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