House Republicans plan to introduce legislation to bar the Federal Communications Commission from ever conducting the kind of intrusive newsroom study they claim the agency was poised to launch, before officials pulled back last week.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., head of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said Tuesday that he'll bring forward a bill, and hold a hearing, aimed at completely stopping this and any similar studies in the future.
"The potential for violation of the First Amendment is exceptionally egregious," he said in a statement.
He was referring to the FCC's proposed "critical information needs" study, which in its initial form would have sent researchers into newsrooms across the country to ask them questions about editorial decisions. Critics, including at least one member of the FCC itself, complained that the study could have the effect of intimidating journalists and editors.
On Friday, the FCC said that Chairman Tom Wheeler agreed that some of the study's proposed questions "overstepped the bounds of what is required." The agency announced that a proposed pilot study in South Carolina would be shelved, at least until a "new study design" is finalized.
The agency also made clear that this and any future studies would not involve interviews with "media owners, news directors or reporters."
But Walden said he wants to go further, and make sure the study comes off the books entirely.
"The very existence of this CIN study is an affront to the First Amendment and should have never been proposed in the first place. ... To date, Chairman Wheeler has insisted upon only making small tweaks, and what he has proposed to do isn't enough. The study should be eradicated completely," he said.
"It took nearly 25 years to get the Fairness Doctrine off the books once it had been 'eliminated' in 1987, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure this study or any other effort by the government to control the output of America's newsrooms never sees the light of day."
The House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which Walden sits, initially raised concerns about the proposed study this past December.
While backing off parts of the study, the FCC has defended its overall goal of studying the information needs of various communities -- which was the underlying mission of the report, which the FCC said it was undertaking in order to fulfill its obligation to Congress.
"Any suggestion that the FCC intends to regulate the speech of news media or plans to put monitors in America's newsrooms is false," an FCC spokeswoman said last week. "The FCC looks forward to fulfilling its obligation to Congress to report on barriers to entry into the communications marketplace, and is currently revising its proposed study to achieve that goal."