Facing growing criticism over a plan to question journalists in newsrooms around the country to assess whether those journalists are meeting government-defined "critical needs," the FCC on Friday announced that it is suspending a pilot program until the entire project can be redesigned. The pilot study was to have taken place in Columbia, S.C., in the district of powerful Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, whose daughter Mignon Clyburn is an FCC commissioner and an advocate of the project.
"[M]edia owners and journalists will no longer be asked to participate in the Columbia, S.C. pilot study," FCC spokesperson Shannon Gilson announced Friday afternoon. "The pilot will not be undertaken until a new study design is final. Any subsequent market studies conducted by the FCC, if determined necessary, will not seek participation from or include questions for media owners, news directors or reporters."
FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican who brought the study to the public's attention with a Wall Street Journal column last week, said he welcomed the suspension of the program. "The Commission has now recognized that no study by the federal government, now or in the future, should involve asking questions to media owners, news directors, or reporters about their practices," Pai said in a statement. "This is an important victory for the First Amendment. And it would not have been possible without the American people making their voices heard."