Government’s Nose in the Tent

They said they didn’t really mean it, that the “study” has been cancelled. All a big misunderstanding having to do with a law passed many years ago that required them to report to Congress the readiness of radio and television stations to report, in an emergency, the critical news that Americans need. Yeah, and you can keep your health care policy, too. Period.

The “they” is the Federal Communications Commission, overseers of electronic communications and controllers of licenses to broadcast, large and small, across the nation. And, the “study” was a program, farmed out to a university and a non-profit (way left), that would question radio and television stations and newspapers about the who, what, why, when, and how of news is produced.

Studiers would question reporters, editors, tv anchors about the processes by which they selected the news, their personal philosophies, perceived biases, and, I’m certain, their political leanings, feelings about minorities and what they called the “underserved,” the economy and the environment. Staff would be asked whether they had ever suggested stories that were rejected, who rejected them and why they were rejected. The rejectors would be questioned about those decisions. All this would be in the name of the U.S. government making certain that the Americans receive the critical news they need in the proper context and with the proper emphasis and the proper timing.

Of course, none of this implied government coercion, direction, intimidation. The program was to be voluntary as in ” Oh, fine, you don’t want to participate? Isn’t your license up for renewal next year?” Or, in the case of newspapers, which aren’t under the jurisdiction of the FCC: “Have you been visited by the IRS, OSHA, EEOC lately?” By the way, a number of newspaper organizations also own radio and television stations (New York Time, Washington Post, Gannett, to name a few). They would be vulnerable to this intrusion and influence.

Not that the issue of media bias hasn’t been an issue. It has. Most conservatives believe that since the majority of news people are registered democrats, the news selection, direction and presentation come out that way. In fact, you might have expected Fox news to be cheering such a study. Sorry. It was the opposite. And, of course, liberals believe Fox is biased. The reality is that the media reaction across the spectrum rebelled against the “study” idea and the government pulled back, at least for the moment. There probably is enough bias to go around. The question is whether the government should direct and control that bias. Another question might be where and who the idea came from and why. Maybe we should do a people study of government bias.

The government, through the FCC, has controlled the cross-ownership of newspapers and radio and television since at least 1975. There are restrictions against ownerships in the same advertising market. Those relate to monopolistic practices rather than content and bias. How this is playing out in today’s over-riding and over-reaching social, electronic networks, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and so forth, is a new issue in itself.

The issue for the moment and forever, however, is the power of government. Government is about control. It sets the rules and the penalties and has the power and manpower to enforce them by jail or fines if necessary. It also controls, through the power to tax, your pocketbook. That’s why the framers of the constitution created an extensive system of checks and balances on government and created protections for individual liberty.

Having the FCC either directly or through its surrogates, whatever their political leanings, meddle in news rooms is the step toward an official government propaganda machine. It’s bad enough that we have thousands of government spokespersons spewing forth the-way-government-sees-it “information” day and night.

Robust discussion whether biased, fair or unfair, not controlled by the government, is what the Founders intended. Politically correct, as determined by the government, is not.

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