The stated purpose of this program is to help the agency better understand how reporters and editors select news stories for publication. The Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs is supposedly voluntary. However, an FCC commissioner warned in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that the survey would be detrimental to press freedoms and ultimately lead to the government dictating to news outlets which stories get coverage and which ones will never see the light of day.
The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is 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."
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.
This is not the first time the agency has meddled in news coverage. Before Critical Information Needs, there was the FCC's now-defunct Fairness Doctrine, which began in 1949 and required equal time for contrasting viewpoints on controversial issues. Though the Fairness Doctrine ostensibly aimed to increase the diversity of thought on the airwaves, many stations simply chose to ignore controversial topics altogether, rather than air unwanted content that might cause listeners to change the channel.
The Fairness Doctrine was controversial and led to lawsuits throughout the 1960s and '70s that argued it infringed upon the freedom of the press. The FCC finally stopped enforcing the policy in 1987, acknowledging that it did not serve the public interest. In 2011 the agency officially took it off the books. But the demise of the Fairness Doctrine has not deterred proponents of newsroom policing, and the CIN study is a first step down the same dangerous path.
The 'survey' was reportedly the brainchild of FCC official Mignon Clyburn- daughter of Democrat congressman and Fairness Doctrine supporter Jim Clyburn. In the wake of the 2011 Tuscon shooting that killed six and injured 14- including then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords- Clyburn blamed conservative talk radio on Jared Loughner's murder spree and called for the reintroduction of the Fairness Doctorine [even though Loughner was determined to be an irate loner who was fixated on Giffords before the advent of the Tea Party- NANESB!].
Since FOX News and conservative talk radio are one of the few media outlets host pundits and media personalities openly critical of President Obama's policies, the proposed FCC guidelines seem designed more for stifling their editorial process as opposed to MSNBC, which is a de-facto TV network for the ruling Democrat party
The news comes around the same time the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders released an index that listed the United States as 46th- between Romania and Haiti- for press freedom. Previously, the Reporters Without Borders survey had listed the United States as 13th overall in press freedom.
However, in May 2013 it was learned that the Department of Justice had seized phone records from the AP in addition to wiretapping Fox News reporter James Rosen and seizing his parent's phone records.
UPDATE- Heading into the weekend, reports were circulating that the FCC was revising or backing away altogether from their proposed Critical Information Needs survey.