Family Research Council

February 21, 2014 - Friday

American Pai: FCC Chair Fights off Gov't Snoops

This is America, not communist China -- but you wouldn't know it by the latest report on the FCC. First the government was spying on people's calls -- now the White House thinks it should make the call on whether the media is operating the way the administration rarely does: objectively. In a story that's exploding across the internet, the Federal Communications Commission is taking a beating for its latest suggestion that Big Brother be the big arbiter of media bias.

The FCC launched the idea late last year in the "Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs." And while the title sounds innocent enough, the agenda behind it is anything but. In between the 70-plus pages of complex tables and charts is the common theme of government intrusion in the free press -- another example of the heavy-handedness of this administration. The FCC says it wants to examine "the process by which stories are selected," as well as "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations."

As part of this "examination," agency officials would grill reporters, editors, and station owners about their content and how they select their stories. A test of the new process is scheduled to kick off in South Carolina this spring. Fortunately, the media's greatest ally may be one of the overseers of the agency attacking it. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai took the story from relative oblivion to the top of the Drudge Report recently with a scathing op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that accuses his agency of "meddling" in the business of broadcasters. It was a concern Ajit echoed to me on last night's edition of "Washington Watch." (Click here to listen.) "The American people, for their part, disagree about what they want to watch," the 2012 appointee wrote in the Journal. "But everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories."

Making matters worse, this new proposal would include newspapers and the internet-two domains that are well beyond the FCC's jurisdiction. To most conservatives, it sounds like a quiet reboot of the Fairness Doctrine -- a failed attempt by the same FCC to order "equal time" from broadcasters on both sides of a controversial issue. And while the policy crashed and burned in 1985, liberals have been chomping at the bit to reinstate it ever since. Under this measure, the government would be back over broadcasters' shoulders, playing referee on at least eight topics (or "Critical Information Needs") including: "emergency," "health," "education," "transportation," "economic opportunities," "environment," "civic info," and "political info." And this isn't your average agency recommendation.

Keep in mind that the FCC has the power to renew or reject broadcast television and radio licenses. "Participation is voluntary -- in theory," Pai explains. But "the FCC's queries may be hard for the broadcasters to ignore. They would be out of business without an FCC license." Free speech, which is already at a premium under this administration, would be endangered like never before. "...[I]t's a Trojan horse," Fox's Howard Kurtz warns, "that puts federal officials in the newsroom, precisely where they shouldn't be."

Of course, the irony of this campaign is that's grounded in the idea that government controls are what's necessary to restore "balance" to the airwaves -- when in reality, a minority of conservative voices are providing the only balance in an industry dominated by the liberal worldview. Regardless, viewers -- not bureaucrats -- should be deciding which coverage meets their needs. Isn't that what freedom and a free market are all about?

Losing the Right Not to be Silent

If the FCC isn't silencing speech, the IRS will! In the run up to the 2014 elections, the President's party can't hide from its scandalous record during the 2012 elections, but it can certainly keep the opposition from talking about it. Under a new proposal, the IRS would subject lobbying groups like FRC Action, our 501(c)(4) legislative action affiliate, to taxation and reporting on everyday activities like: grassroots lobbying, candidate forums, candidate debates, voter registration, voter guides, and general issue advocacy. Not only would FRC Action be restricted in helping churches register their members to vote, but we would be limited in distributing voter guides that show where the candidates stand on the important issues involving you and your family.

Obviously, the goal is to drive these groups out of business by making it too difficult to operate, just like the IRS targeting of conservatives did in 2011-12, arguably impacting the outcome of that election. Movements like the Tea Party, which was built on the backs of 501(c)(4)s, would be forced to transition into PACs (Political Action Committees), where all donors are reported.

As recent history has shown us, this gives the Left the opportunity to harass and intimidate donors to conservative organizations until there is no opposition to their radical policies. The effect is an information blackout, where candidates won't be held as accountable for their votes on unpopular policies like ObamaCare. And heading into an election where the health care law, spending, the economy, and other failures loom large, liberals need something to tip the scales. "With one little IRS rule," the Wall Street Journal warns, "[the White House] can shut up hundreds of groups that pose a direct threat by restricting their ability to speak freely in an election season..."

The IRS needs to be accountable to "We the People." You can help by providing public comment to the IRS to let them know that these proposed regulations are restrictive and chilling on grassroots citizen groups and everyone's freedom of speech.

Partner for Faith, Family and Freedom

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** Set your DVRs for Fox's "Hannity" tonight at 10:00 p.m. (ET), where I'll be discussing the new "Son of God" film. Also tune in to "Fox and Friends" on Sunday morning as I discuss the disconnect between Hollywood values and what Americans' value as evidenced at the movie box office.

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

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