Big Brother and The Fish Wrapper Industry

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Content advisory in the video for one very crude section.  From the only reliable source of news on the net, the Onion.  The Onion exaggerates a bit. Why the Boston Globe probably has at least a few years of death spiral left to it before it has zero subscribers.

The Federal Trade Commission has produced a staff  discussion draft which may be read here, filled with bad ideas to prop up the dead tree media.  Among the worst of the ideas is what boils down to government money being used to subsidize the fish wrapper industry:

Proposals for Increased Government Subsidies, Indirect and Direct A variety of proposals have emerged to allow further government support for journalism through either indirect or direct means. Whatever the means, care must be taken to ensure that government support does not result in biased and politicized news coverage.  :)

Increase Government Funding

Establish a “journalism” division of AmeriCorps.   AmeriCorps is the federal program that places young people with nonprofits to get training and do public service work.87 According to proponents, this proposal would help to ensure that young people who love journalism will stay in the field. “It strikes us as a win-win; we get more journalists covering our communities, and young journalists have a chance to gain valuable experience – even at a time when the small dailies where they might have started are laying reporters off.”

Increase funding for the CPB.   According to one report:

Public radio and television should be substantially reoriented to provide significant local news reporting in every community served by public stations and their Web sites. This requires urgent action by and reform of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, increased congressional funding and support for public media news reporting, and changes in mission and leadership for many public stations across the country.

Various commentators agree that CPB funding needs to be increased,90 and many believe that NPR and PBS stations need to build and maintain strong newsrooms at the state and local levels.91 NPR announced in October 2009 that it would launch a new journalism project to develop in-depth, local coverage on topics critical to communities and the nation. The project is being funded with $2 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and $1 million from the Knight Foundation. One speaker suggested that with additional federal funding, this initiative could be expanded.92 The president and CEO of NPR explained that this project will “beef up local online content at the station level” and will be done in “partnership with other public media players [and] new not-for-profits.”93 Similarly, one public comment noted that “Congress should adopt legislation that would provide substantial additional resources to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the purpose of supporting local newsgathering by public service media. These resources would be directed toward public broadcasting stations and other nonprofit or low-profit local news organizations.”

Establish a National Fund for Local News. One report recommends that: “A national Fund for Local News should be created with money the Federal Communications Commission now collects from or could impose on telecom users, television and radio broadcast licensees, or Internet service providers and which would be administered in open competition through state Local News Fund Councils.” The report notes that the FCC currently uses surcharges and other fees to underwrite telecom services for rural areas and the multimedia wiring of schools and libraries, among other things. These fees support the public circulation of information in places the market has failed to serve. If such a “Fund for Local News” were created, measures would need to be in place to reduce the potential for political pressures and interference as to how the money is distributed.

Provide a tax credit to news organizations for every journalist they employ. This could help pay the salary of every journalist. Although the proponent of this idea died before it had been fully developed, one speaker noted it is one way to subsidize journalists without the government picking one paper over another.

Establish Citizenship News Vouchers.   Citizenship news vouchers would allow every American tax payer to allocate some amount of government funds to the non-profit media organization of their choice. People could indicate on their tax return whether and to which nonprofit organization they want a specific amount (perhaps up to $200) to be donated, but they would not be required to designate a donation. They could split their “federal funds” donation among several different qualifying nonprofit media. Proponents of this approach suggest it would create a funding mechanism to encourage viable independent Internet journalism while avoiding government control or the creation of a bureaucracy that could influence the recipients of the money based on politics. This proposal also could give foundations a role to play. Foundations could provide start-up funding for 3 to 5 years to help new ventures, “and then see if there is popular support for the venture in the form of Citizenship News Vouchers.”If desired, this proposal could be structured to apply to commercial, as well as non-profit, news entities.

Provide grants to universities to conduct investigative journalism. According to one speaker, “if the nation’s 200,000 journalism and mass communications students spent 10 percent of their time doing actual journalism, that would more than make up for all the traditional media jobs that have been lost in the past 10 years.” Such grants also could encourage training journalists to use digital technologies to conduct investigative journalism.
If students are to conduct such journalism, however, they will need the same protection as professional journalists with respect to confidential sources. Many of the shield laws do not protect the nation’s 200,000 journalism and mass communications students because they are not considered “journalists” under such laws.

Well how would they pay for all this?

Proposals to Pay for Increased Public Funding

Representative Waxman noted in remarks to the FTC workshop on December 2, 2009, that those advocating for public funding “need to articulate the scope of such support, in terms of the activities to be supported and the dollars required. They need to respond to the concern that government support of journalism would lead to government control of content. And they need to explain the source of revenues.”

Two authors estimate that the various subsidies they propose – “postal subsidies; journalist tax credits; News AmeriCorps; student media; public media; and especially Citizenship News Vouchers – could run as high as $35 billion annually.”Although they recognize that convincing the government to allocate this amount of money to journalism and the news media would be extremely difficult, they argue “this level of spending would be similar to the U.S. government’s commitment to subsidizing journalism in the first half of the 19th century,” and the government should be willing to allocate funds to journalism as a public good.110 They recognize that suggestions for funding sources, especially apart from federal income taxes, are helpful and suggest the government establish a distinct “Citizenship Media Fund.” Funding sources could include the following suggestions.

Tax on broadcast spectrum. They argue “commercial radio and television broadcasters are given monopoly rights to extremely lucrative spectrum at no charge,” and this is a massive public subsidy. They therefore suggest the revenues generated by that spectrum be taxed at a rate of 7 percent, which should result in a fund of between $3 and $6 billion. In exchange, commercial broadcasters would be relieved of any obligations to engage in “public-interest programming,” which the broadcasters claim costs them $10 billion annually.

Tax on consumer electronics.   A 5 percent tax on consumer electronics would generate approximately $4 billion annually.

Spectrum auction tax.   They suggest there be a tax on the auction sales prices for commercial communication spectrum, with the proceeds going to the public-media fund.

Advertising taxes. They note a considerable amount of our broadcast spectrum has been turned over to disseminating commercial advertisements, and a 2 percent sales tax on advertising would generate approximately $5 to $6 billion annually. In addition, they suggest that changing the tax write-off of all advertising as a business expense in a single year to a write-off over a 5-year period would generate an additional $2 billion per year.

ISP-cell phone tax. They suggest consumers could pay a small tax on their monthly ISP-cell phone bills to fund content they access on their digital services. A tax of 3 percent on the monthly fees would generate $6 billion annually. They note, however, this is the least desirable approach because demand for these services is “elastic” and even a slight rise in price could result in people dropping the service.

And what do the American people think of all this?

Yesterday Rasmussen released a poll which makes that clear:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is considering several ways to help the struggling newspaper industry, but Americans strongly reject several proposed taxes to keep privately-owned newspapers going.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 84% oppose a three percent (3%) tax on monthly cell phone bills to help newspapers and traditional journalism.

Similarly, 76% oppose a proposed five percent tax on the purchase of consumer electronic items such as computers, iPads and Kindles to help support newspapers and traditional journalism. Seventy-four percent (74%) oppose the proposal to tax web sites like the Drudge Report to help the newspapers they draw their headlines from.

Each of these ideas was suggested for consideration in a recent FTC report.

Only 10% favor the tax on monthly cell phone bills to help newspapers and traditional journalism. Sixteen percent (16%) support the tax on consumer electronic devices, and 18% of Adults favor placing an additional tax on Internet news sites.

Thank goodness we have these things called elections to respond to pernicious idiocy like the FTC musings.  The Founding Fathers talked of a free press and not a press owned by the government.  Other political systems have walked down that path, with dreadful results.

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