The House Energy & Commerce Committee by a voice vote Tuesday approved plans to "examine certain
editorial and employment standards and practices at NPR," as part of its
communications oversight of various agencies. That is part of an overall oversight plan that also includes looking into the FCC's network neutrality rules and broadband policies in general. The plan references "recent controversies involving NPR."
Those would be the firing of commentator Juan Williams,
an ensuing investigation into that firing, and the resignation of the person
who made that decision, Ellen Weiss, NPR Senior VP, News,
It also plans to investigate the financing of the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting, which provides funds to NPR and PBS, to determine whether that
funding should continue.
A Republican-backed continuing resolution has proposed phasing out CPB funding
for the rest of the year, while the president proposed forward funding of
noncom broadcasting in his just-released budget.
Energy & Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) had already signaled he
believed NPR had a political agenda. After Williams' firing over his comments
about Muslims on The O'Reilly Factor,
Upton said the move "[tore] down the thin veil that once shrouded this
taxpayer-subsidized organization's political bias."
He called it "an egregious assault on free speech and individual
expression, the touchstones of American journalism."
But CPB is just one of a host of issues for the Committee, which
Upton has pledged will take an aggressive oversight role on many fronts.
Among the other communications and technology oversight
issues the committee plans to focus on are FCC processes and decisions,
particularly whether the FCC does cost-benefit and market analyses on the
impact of its regulations; the National Telecommunications &
Administration/Rural Utilities Service management of $7 billion in broadband stimulus
money; the FCC's National Broadband Plan; Universal Service Fund Reform;
privacy and cyber security; and spectrum management.
The section on spectrum management does not mention broadcasters,
some of whose spectrum the FCC wants to reclaim, but instead focuses on that
spectrum's increasing use for advanced voice, video and data services. The plan
for the committee is to "evaluate spectrum-management policies to ensure
that such policies are maximizing the efficient use of the public airwaves for
innovative communications services. The Committee will also examine whether
plans for allocating spectrum maximizes capacity for broadband deployment and
The committee's Communications & Internet Subcommittee
will hold a hearing on the FCC's network neutrality order Feb. 16, featuring
all the commissioners as witnesses.