This shouldn’t need to be said, but alas, we must say it: The federal government has no business in private newsrooms across this country. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. None.
Sadly, no one thought to tell the bureaucrats at the Federal Communications Commission that their thoughts on what constitutes “critical information needs” are unwarranted, unnecessary and creepy.
The Wall Street Journal reported in an opinion column last week, that the FCC has commissioned a study to “understand the critical information needs (CINs) of the American public.” The FCC has since said it will not be headed to newsrooms, however, we are appalled the idea was even considered.
The study, “The Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” is to be conducted in several media markets using content survey, interviews and the authoritative presence of bureaucrats in television and radio news rooms to assist in the research.
Researchers would ask news departments several questions in order to determine “the process by which stories are selected, station priorities (for content production quality and populations served) perceived station bias,” and the percent of news content dedicated to the FCC’s hand-selected, critical information needs.
The FCC is responsible for issuing broadcast licenses to radio and television stations, and participation in the study will be “voluntary.”
Even if study participation is completely voluntary and there are no subtle threats to revoke or deny the reissue of existing broadcast permits, we can find no value in the government researching how newsroom decisions are made.
“For example, a story/segment that presents health information about prescription drugs might frame the story as one of personal responsibility in which individuals – not physicians or pharmacists – are responsible for making sure that there are no contradictions across the drugs they are taking. Another story looking at the same issue might frame such oversight as the responsibility of health professionals. Each has very different implications for how citizens might react to the story,” the research design proposal reads.
Why does the government need to know how those decisions or made? We can think of no practical, Constitutional purposes for which the information would be  used, so why collect it?
Of course, the area of study is an interesting one, but that’s not reason enough for bureaucrats to do such a thing. It is better suited to universities – not the heavy-hand of the federal bureaucracy – to gather such information.
Journalists shouldn’t be answering questions from government officials. It should be the other way around.