FCC media content probe doesn’t seem to be happening

More than six weeks after the Federal Communications Commission announced a broad probe of political speech that raised serious First Amendment concerns, the city where the program was scheduled to begin has yet to hear from the Feds.

On November 1, the FCC announced that it would begin a pilot of its “Critical Information Needs” (CIN) survey in the Columbia, South Carolina media market.

The CIN survey — which would include invasive questioning about how stories get selected, whether management ever spikes pieces, and other areas that the government has traditionally left to the judgment of the private sector — has generated strong opposition since it was reported in The Daily Caller in October. (RELATED: FCC to police news media, question reporters in wide-ranging content survey)

The survey is ostensibly aimed at assessing barriers to entry in multiple “media ecologies” around the country, with a “special emphasis on vulnerable/disadvantaged populations,” according to a methodology of the study [pdf] published by Silver Spring, Maryland-based Social Solutions International, which is conducting the probe.

Media observers and House Republicans have pushed back against the FCC’s plan to demand a remarkably wide range of information on demographics, point of view, news topic selection, management style and other factors in news organizations both in and out of the FCC’s traditional purview. The airwaves regulator would subject news producers in all media — including print and online media not subject to FCC regulation — to interrogation about their work and content.

Last week, Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan and Greg Walden of Oregon — the chairmen, respectively, of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Subcommittee on Telecommunications & Technology — detailed a variety of concerns in a letter [pdf] to new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

The House leaders challenged the FCC’s authority to conduct the survey; warned of the implied threat to “information unfettered by direct or indirect intrusion by the government”; and questioned the study’s price tag of more than $900,000, among other concerns.

First Amendment advocates and the National Association of Broadcasters have also slammed the idea. Hudson Institute Fellow Robert McDowell, who served as an FCC commissioner from 2009 to 2013, told The Daily Caller in October that the survey “starts sticking the government’s nose into what has traditionally been privileged and protected ground. Regardless of one’s political stripes, one should be concerned.”

There’s just one complication: Nobody in Columbia has heard from the FCC at all, and neither the FCC nor Social Solutions International has responded to multiple requests for comment.