Despite setback, the FCC’s snout is under the tent

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Chalk one up for the good guys — well, sort of.

After a week of mockery, derision, and disdain, the Federal Communications Commission has announced that it won’t put observers in newsrooms after all.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 10 had alerted the public to the dangers of having government representatives querying news bosses about how they decide what stories to cover — and which ones not to cover.

The implicit threat of such heavy-handed research is that the government could be on the verge of announcing that IT will decide what stories are important to cover, just as it has decided what kind of cars you should buy (no “clunkers”!), what kind of health insurance you should have (Obamacare!) and what kind of dust is the right kind (whatever kind the EPA says!).

I wrote about that threat in this column last week, just ahead of an avalanche of coverage everywhere except on the major mainstream networks, which may have viewed the proposal as just a new phase of their “partnership” with the government to promote social justice and class warfare.

The academic study which led to the FCC plan to infiltrate the nation’s newsrooms, was conducted by the Annenberg School of Communications at USC. It posited the existence of “critical information needs” and concluded that the mass media was failing to meet those needs, thus leaving “low income and some minority and marginalized communities” ... “systematically disadvantaged in both personal and community opportunities.”

When you sorted out the gobbledygook (or what Orwell called “sheer cloudy vagueness”) you can only be left with the impression that some pointy heads at the FCC felt it was their obligation to massage the message coming out of newsrooms so that these so-called “critical needs” were being met. In other words, the most overt move toward government control of the media since the Sedition Act of 1918.

But, hey, relax. Uncle Sam has thrown up his hands and surrendered. FCC Spokesperson Shannon Gilson “set the record straight” in a statement released Friday.

“To be clear,” Gilson said, “media owners and journalists will no longer be asked to participate in the Columbia, S.C., pilot study. The pilot will not be undertaken until a new study design is final. Any subsequent market studies conducted by the FCC, if determined necessary, will not seek participation from or include questions for media owners, news directors or reporters.

“Any suggestion that the FCC intends to regulate the speech of news media or plans to put monitors in America’s newsrooms is false.”

Well, thanks, Shannon. I feel a lot better now.

At least I did until remembered how many times advocates of unlimited government tried and failed to pass universal health insurance, going back to the drawing board each time. They tweaked their proposals and shot them out again, never able to overcome the underlying argument against government intrusion, but instead increasing their efforts to “educate” the public on how poverty wickedly leaves “critical health needs” unmet.

Eventually having the government tell you what doctor to see seems like a small price to pay in order to ensure that your neighbor has health care. (Well, you are paying your neighbor’s premium, too, but even that seems like a small price to pay, doesn’t it? After all, you wouldn’t really want to see you neighbor get sick and die, would you, you heartless bastard?)

So don’t expect this issue to go away. The camel’s nose is already under the tent, and when the sultans of the news media fall fast asleep after getting drunk on their own self-importance, you can bet the camel is coming inside.

Or is a pig’s snout the better metaphor? Read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” for a lesson in just how easy it is for the pigs to gull the  rest of the animals into going along to get along. That works out just fine as long as you mind your own business or until it is your turn to be sent to the knacker. Look it up, and then consider whether you really want to trust your god-given rights over to the FCC or any other government agency.

The most critical of all our “information needs” is to keep the government out of the information business — period.

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