I certainly understand with people feel a little paranoid about the government right now due to the gigantic data gathering that is being done by the NSA. But it’s pretty incredibly paranoid to think that somehow the US government is planning on taking over every TV station, radio station, newspaper and even the Internet. Of course, one gets the first clue that this article is a bit paranoid and biased when the very first sentence uses the word ‘sovietization’.
So what the heck is this guy talking about that would give him the idea that the FCC was ready to take over the communications world? It starts with a study that the FCC is undertaking through Social Solutions International. I have included here this Research Design Study from SSI so that you can see it for yourself. This document is not the results of the FCC study, but instead is a description of the study that is currently being undertaken, to be published sometime in 2014.
My firm CCG Consulting does market surveys and so I am pretty conversant with the kind of jargon that is used to talk about statistical sampling and market research. And this document is massively jargon-laden and it takes some reading between the lines to figure out exactly what they are doing.
So what is this study trying to find out? They are basically after two things. First, they want to understand better where people go to get their news. The study refers to this as ‘critical information needs’, but it basically boils down to where people to find out what is happening in the world – and that is news
Second, the study is looking at random local markets to do a qualitative analysis of information that is made available to the public. This is the part that has Mr. Nimmo so paranoid because it is going to look at local newspapers, radio broadcasts and TV and judge them according to accuracy, fairness, bias, etc. And somehow they are going to try to do the same thing with the Internet.
But it’s a long stretch to say that the FCC is using this study as a precursor to taking over media. That is a monstrous break in logic and out of touch with reality and with the relatively weak nature of the FCC.
So what do I think of this study? It certainly is within the purview of the FCC to periodically look at how people communicate in the country. After all, they are in charge of monitoring and regulating those very industries.
But I don’t think this particular study is going to be very effective or turn up anything of much interest. Certainly it is going to give us a peek at where people go to get information today. But one would have to think that companies like Google know far more about that today than what this study is going to uncover.
And I have very poor hopes that the qualitative analysis is going to uncover anything that will be statistically valid and have any relevance for the whole country. It would make a lot more sense to study a tiny of handful of markets in complete depth over a long period of time if somebody really wants to understand the barriers and misinformation that is in place today in local media. Those kinds of local studies are best done by academia. This study doesn’t look to me to be as thorough and vigorous as those kinds of studies can be.
And so my expectations is that this study is going to generate a few headlines next year highlighting whatever claims the study makes, and then it will go on the shelf. It’s not likely to have much impact on FCC policy and it certainly is not going to be the catalyst to the FCC somehow taking over the US media (not sure how they would do that even if they wanted to).
But unfortunately in the Internet age people like Mr. Nimmo can stir up paranoia and animosity towards the government over what, in this case, looks more like an expensive boondoggle. There are certainly things that I don’t like about the FCC, being an industry person, but I am not too worried that they are out to conquer the world a la Pinkie and the Brain.