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FCC study said to be ‘Fairness Doctrine 2.0.’

 

The Fairness Doctrine is dead.  Or is it?  That’s what a group of 16 House Republicans want to know.  They’re suspiciously eyeing a FCC study as a new backdoor way to revive the much-derided policy that required stations to offer opinions on both sides of an issue.

Their ire is directed at a $900,000 study announced last month by the FCC that would examine the “critical information needs” of several markets.  It would collect information on how local news outlets make their editorial decisions by quizzing station owners, journalists and local managers.   The lawmakers are accusing the FCC of engaging in an effort to become the “news police” and making an unconstitutional “intrusion” into the press.  “It is hard to read this and see it for anything other than what it is: Fairness Doctrine 2.0,” they write in a letter to FCC chair Tom Wheeler.   They’re particularly suspicious that what was billed as a multi-market analysis is now just focusing on a single city: Columbia, SC.

The House members are asking Wheeler to immediately suspend the study and start over with a methodology that doesn’t have a Fairness Doctrine aroma.  The Commerce Committee members have also submitted a list of seven questions they want Wheeler to answer by January 10 so as to explain the FCC’s thinking.  The issue is likely to be raised tomorrow too when the five commissioners appear before the House Communications Subcommittee.

The Fairness Doctrine hasn’t been enforced since 1987, but bits and pieces of the policy remained on the FCC’s books until August 2011, when its last remnants were formally scrapped.


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