Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Feds next target: News media?

Commentary By James H. Shott

Been wondering which American industry is next to be consumed by our ravenous federal government? You may find the answer in a report released this month suggesting that the news media can only survive if it is a public media.

This suggestion is contained in a paper titled “New Public Media: A Plan for Action,” in which the authors say: “Take a close look at the American journalism landscape in 2010, and the scene is grim. Ad revenue is down; job cuts are up; and new business models have yet to prove sustainable. In recent decades, media consolidation, poor business decisions and the drive for ever higher profit margins have pushed many traditional news outlets to the brink — even before the recession and the collapse of traditional advertising. Today, we have a news industry in steep decline, with no sign of a long-term recovery.”

The authors don’t want the federal government to own the media, but they want substantial involvement by the feds, which ultimately means a high degree of control. “The idea of combining media, public policy and local entrepreneurship to support a robust marketplace” isn’t a new one, they tell us. “Since the nation’s founding, government policy has played a central role in protecting free speech and ensuring a robust and free press. In the 18th and 19th centuries, postal subsidies dramatically reduced the cost of sending newspapers and were essential to the effective dissemination of news and information. ‘Common carrier’ rules dating back close to a century helped to build a robust and universal communications infrastructure. In 1967, the Public Broadcasting Act led to the founding of NPR, PBS and other alternatives to commercial media fare. Each policy change was the result of advances in technology and the need to protect the public interest.”

See how it works? First, the government took certain steps that helped newspapers and later helped broadcasting. But then it formed public broadcasting networks, and now there’s the suggestion it take control of the news media by making it a public entity. As with health care, ultimately the government seeks total control. The same sort of incremental encroachment has substantially taken control of the nation’s public schools.

The authors are correct that journalism is experiencing change, but change does not translate to collapse. This is not journalism’s first such crisis; it is the third one since the printing press shoved the town crier into the unemployment line. In the 1930s newspapers were challenged by the advent of network radio news. And in the 50s both newspapers and radio were challenged by network television news, and that change is still evolving. What journalism also faces today is yet another new element, the Internet. Technology has again produced change; but change is nothing new for the news media, and it isn’t fatal, so we don’t need the government to rush in to save the day.

The authors’ concept fits comfortably into the philosophy espoused by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel: “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” And if there isn’t a convenient crisis afoot, make one up. Hence the title of the report’s opening section: “Crisis and Opportunity.”

This paper was produced by Free Press, a left-wing organization reportedly close to the Obama administration describing itself as “a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to reform the media.” Free Press is listed first among coalition partners of StopBigMedia.com, a major initiative of which is Net Neutrality, a movement to impose a Fairness Doctrine (read “government control”) on the Internet. Other left-wing partners include: Service Employees International Union (SEIU); AFL-CIO, Department for Professional Employees; Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; National Organization for Women; Feminist Majority; Common Cause; Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting; ACLU of Iowa; Coalition Against Hate Media; and Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda.

Free Press wants to create the idea that private media has failed, and use it as an excuse for the government to “save” yet another industry for the good of all mankind. However, lower revenues and job cuts are normal business problems, sometimes as a result of bad business decisions, sometimes as a result of economic recession. If we can keep the predatory, gluttonous feds at bay long enough, private sector media will adapt to changing circumstances, as it has done throughout history, and strong companies will emerge, survive and thrive.

One wonders if liberals believe there is any element of our lives that would not be better under government control. But imagine what a nightmare it will be if things devolve to the point where government chooses who can report news in a newspaper, or on radio, television, or the Internet.

Defeating this power grab depends upon the free flow of reliable information, which is a significant challenge, given the degree to which the mainstream media has abandoned its duty to produce balanced and accurate reporting to keep the citizenry well informed.

Barack Obama believes there is too much information available to people and that they can’t tell the good from the bad. That’s insulting. The answer is more information, not less, and less information is what we’ll have with government management of the news.

Cross-posted from Observations

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