The federal government wants to study — using out tax dollars — how media gather news to meet the public’s “critical information needs.”
How the media gathers news — or any of the who, what, why and where of the news industry — is not a government concern. The Founding Fathers understood the importance of having independent news gatherers, with no government censorship, was critical to a free nation.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1787.
In that same letter Jefferson sent to a delegate to the Continental Congress, he wrote: “The good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army.” Jefferson trusted that the public would sift through the various news reports and ultimately figure it out.
Today, this nation and the world are bombarded by media every minute of every day.
And that makes it more difficult to discern various views, but Americans seem to be doing just fine in figuring out if the news they are getting is slanted and in what direction.
Even if some folks can’t figure it out, it is absolutely not the government’s role to do it for them.
The government agency proposing the study, the Federal Communications Commission, immediately came under fire when pitching the proposal.
In the face of the outcry, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he would amend the effort to assess whether the news media were meeting the public’s “critical information needs” by removing questions critics had deemed invasive.
It doesn’t matter what the questions are, the government has no reason or authority to ask any question about news gathering.
Ajit Pai, one of the two Republicans on the five member FCC, gets it. He tore into the proposal in a column written for the Wall Street Journal. He said he has concerns about the study, specifically that it could by taken by news organizations as pressure to squelch certain types of stories.
Wheeler said such concerns would turn out to be unfounded. The commission had “no intention of regulating political or other speech,” he said.
The intent of today’s commissioners is irrelevant. Commissioners in the future might have other ideas. Beyond that, it is simply none of the government’s concern.
Pai hit the bull’s-eye at the carnival in his ultimate goal — “to get rid of this study altogether and avoid having anyone in the government probing deeply into America’s newsrooms.”
Give him the big stuffed bear for looking out for free speech and freedom of thought in the United States.