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The Federal Communications Commission in 2012 launched a study that concluded the agency must “devote greater attention” to ensuring that news media organizations have a “diversity” of ownership and meet the public’s “critical information needs,” WND has learned.

The study, titled “Review of the Literature Regarding Critical Information Needs of the American Public,” was presented to the FCC at an official agency event June 26, 2012.

A co-author of the study is Ernest Wilson, dean of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Wilson also was an adviser on communication issues to President Obama’s 2009 White House transition team.

Calling for more “diversity” in ownership of media, the study identified what it determined to be the “critical information needs” of local communities that must be met by media outlets.

The stated “needs” include information about:

  • politics, including candidates at all relevant levels of governance;
  • health and welfare;
  • education, including the quality of local schools and choices available to parents;
  • transportation, including available alternatives, costs and schedules;
  • economic opportunities;
  • the environment, including air and water quality and access to recreation;
  • civic information, including the availability of civic institutions.

The study concluded low income and some minority communities are likely to be “systematically disadvantaged” in terms of their “critical information needs” being met.

“We therefore recommend the FCC devote greater attention to these barriers and to opportunities as part of their statutory mission,” concluded the study.

The information comes after the FCC was getting ready last week to start a “Critical Information Needs” survey in Columbia, S.C.

The agency now says it is scaling back some of the survey questions after a flurry of negative media attention, admitting the queries “overstepped the bounds of what is required.”

It was unclear what changes the FCC was making to its survey. Originally, the study was set to cover “the process by which stories are selected” and the frequency with which stations report on “critical information needs,” according to the FCC. The agency said it will determine if there is any “perceived station bias” or “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”

The survey was so troubling that one of the FCC’s own commissioners, Ajit Pai, warned against it in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

“The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories,” Pai wrote.

Pai contended that while newsroom participation in the survey may officially be voluntary, broadcasters would find it difficult to decline since “they would be out of business without an FCC license, which must be renewed every eight years.”

With additional research by Brenda J. Elliott.

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