In a move that many free-press advocates may find frightening, the Obama Administration is looking to send FCC employees into news outlets to investigate how the media chooses stories.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has written an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal warning Americans about the program designed to "ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters" about "the process by which stories are selected" and how often stations cover "critical information needs," along with "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations." FCC workers will be sent to newsrooms to ask these questions. The process was proposed in 2013. Pai writes:
How does the FCC plan to dig up all that information? First, the agency selected eight categories of "critical information" such as the "environment" and "economic opportunities," that it believes local newscasters should cover. It plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their "news philosophy" and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.
The FCC also wants to wade into office politics. One question for reporters is: "Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?" Follow-up questions ask for specifics about how editorial discretion is exercised, as well as the reasoning behind the decisions.
Commissioner Pai does not contend that the Obama Administration is executing this program to intimidate the news media, but it does set up the possibility that this or a future administration can use this program to shape the news.