FCC knows no bounds

“It’s the thought that counts.”

Normally that old saying is used in very quaint ways. I am sure many of us have uttered the phrase around birthdays or special events when we receive a gift we’re not exactly crazy about but are still moved by the sweet gesture.

But here is a different twist on that old phrase and, sorry, but it won’t give you a case of the warm fuzzies. Instead it shows how far our government is trying to push the intrusion envelope. This time it was an attempted assault on the First Amendment.

On Feb. 28, the Federal Communications Commission — the government agency that regulates radio, TV, wire, satellite and cable communications across the country — issued a statement saying it would not go forward with a controversial newsroom study that would have, among other things, put government agents into radio, TV and print newsrooms to assess how journalists make decisions on what stories they cover and why. The fact that the FCC was actually planning to go forward with the study until a Republican member of the panel blew the whistle in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece is absolutely frightening. It shows a huge lack of respect not only for their own boundaries, because regulating newspapers is not part of their job description, but for freedom of the press in general.

The FCC claimed the study was not an attempt to intimidate or pressure the media. They were attempting to “investigate” issues such as “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”

So agents working for the panel that renews broadcast licenses come into your newsrooms and start asking all kinds of questions and you’re just supposed to throw aside any concerns and roll out the welcome mat? If you believe that then I have some oceanfront property in Arizona I would like to show you. Here is a major case of where the thought really does count — and certainly not in a good way. According to various reports, the study was killed off after an outcry from prominent media organizations and several concerned members of the GOP. The FCC eventually admitted the questions that would have been proposed to members of the working press — and I guess this was a news flash moment for them — “overstepped the bounds of what was required.” No kidding.

I am among the first to admit I am not exactly happy with the way media cover the news. For crying out loud, I give presentations and write books about the many issues with the media, particularly when it comes to covering the papacy, the Church and issues of faith and morality. But I also spent close to half of my life in secular newsrooms as a working journalist, and I still believe the system established through the First Amendment needs to be fiercely protected.

The way to promote positive change in the media is not by government intrusion or control. Instead we need to engage the media in a variety of levels and in a variety of ways. We can submit well-written opinion pieces to news outlets. We can utilize the many avenues of social media available in today’s high-tech world. We can support Catholic media outlets. And last but certainly not least, we can encourage strong Catholics and other Christians to consider a career in the secular media.

By engaging the culture through all of these efforts, our newsrooms will be truly diverse. They will better represent the audiences they serve, and people running those operations will be more thoughtful when it comes to making day-to-day editorial decisions.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ava Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.