The question I hear time and time again from audiences who see my documentary film, Broadcast Blues is, "Why did you leave your lucrative career in broadcasting to become a media reform activist?"
The truth is that, once upon a time, I worked in a newsroom where a corporate owner ordered me, a reporter, to skew my reporting to purposely make a man on trial for murder --- look guilty.
In an instant, my entire life changed. The trust I'd had in my news organization vanished. And the deeper I looked into the way corporate owners manage the message they want the public to hear, the more disillusioned I became.
There is more to that story --- so much more --- but you'll have to wait for me to finish my book to get all the chilling details on it.
But this is the kind of story that many reporters could tell, if only they dared. But when they dare, as Jane Akre and Steve Wilson did, they can get fired for telling the truth. (Who can forget the story of these Fox affiliate investigative reporters who tried to report on Monsanto Bovine Growth Hormone being injected into cattle, only for it to then be found in the milk supply, which experts said could cause cancer? WTVT fired them after Monsanto complained to Fox "News" chief Roger Ailes.) The reporters filed a whistleblower suit, and Akre won. But Fox won in the end, by getting a court order that, legally, news does not have to be true. Akre and Wilson lost not only their jobs, but ended up having to pay Fox' attorney fees. (See my story from Broadcast Blues on this case, including courtroom footage here.)
This is the kind of information I suspect the FCC was hoping to tease out in their planned "Multi-market Study of Critical Information Needs" [PDF] which, as I wrote last week at The BRAD BLOG, sparked a right wing firestorm in recent weeks when Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai went public with a Wall Street Journal op-ed accusing his colleagues of "meddling with the news" by simply asking voluntary questions of newsrooms. The study was part of the FCC's statutory requirement to report to Congress every three years, as they have for decades, on identifying "barriers to entry into the communications marketplace faced by entrepreneurs and other small businesses."
The question for reporters from the CIN study that was most disturbing to Pai: "Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?"...