FCC Suspends Critical Information Needs Pilot Study

The FCC has suspended its Critical Information Needs (CIN) pilot study in Columbia, S.C., until it has corrected its methodology per concerns that some of the questions were inappropriate, and says it will no longer ask any questions of media owners or journalists.

The study has come under fire, fueled by commissioner Ajit Pai's op ed in the Wall Street Journal this week taking issue with it.

In fact, according to an excerpt from the transcript of the daily press briefing with White House spokesman Jay Carney Friday, the study came up in a question from Fox's Wendell Goler.

Carney deferred to the FCC, but pointed out that it was an independent agency and he urged Goler to talk to the FCC.

"[I]n the course of FCC review and public comment, concerns were raised that some of the questions may not have been appropriate," said FCC spokesperson Shannon Gilson in a statement posted on the FCC web site. "Chairman Wheeler agreed that survey questions in the study directed toward media outlet managers, news directors, and reporters overstepped the bounds of what is required. Last week, chairman Wheeler informed lawmakers that the commission has no intention of regulating political or other speech of journalists or broadcasters and would be modifying the draft study. Yesterday, the chairman directed that those questions be removed entirely.

“To be clear, 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."

"I welcome today’s announcement that the FCC has suspended its 'Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,' or CIN study," said Pai in response to the announcement. "This study would have thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country, somewhere it just doesn’t belong."

"The Commission has now recognized that no study by the federal government, now or in the future, should involve asking questions to media owners, news directors, or reporters about their practices. This is an important victory for the First Amendment. And it would not have been possible without the American people making their voices heard. I will remain vigilant that any future initiatives not infringe on our constitutional freedoms."

The study pre-dated Wheeler's tenure, and was billed back in 2012 as a way to gauge the impact of media ownership on diversity. But when the methodology was outlined late last yaer—the study was to begin this spring—concerns were raised about the questions it planned to pose to reporters about how and why they covered stories.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.