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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Restoring the Utility of a Free Press

The Free Press Under Assault from Incipient Oligarchs

A Free Press has to have these three Attributes:

  • Free And Unfettered Access to News Sources and events
  • A means to get paid and eat
  • A means to reach their audiences

Currently all three of these attributes of a free press are under assault

The Free Press in the United States is under attack from enemies & counterfeiters. These overt enemies want to either take over and control the news for corrupt partisan purposes, or to shut down legitimate news and substitute "entertainment" and propaganda. The usurpers are succeeding principally by buying networks, local TV and Radio and replacing local news staffs with centralized propagandists and central instructions. This is concentrating ownership of news and creating local monopoly and reinforcing local, regional and national oligarchic power. Meanwhile Counterfeit news is propagated by partisans with no means to verify and validate accuracy. This news is often picked up by the Oligarchic news as if it were the real thing.

If this is allowed to continue the Utility of honest and accurate reporting will be replaced with agitation propaganda, advertising & purely partisan information.  This is already happening with Companies like Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting. And the influence of front office and back office powers over editing and content is felt across the media. Meanwhile many qualified veteran reporters are doing web broadcasts or blogs. That is not a stable or efficient substitute to truly free press.

This is a threat to both the Democratic Party and Democracy. Until it is fixed we have to act as inadequate substitutes for the press ourselves.

A Corruption And Oligarchy Threat

Right Wing Media and Oligarchic both degrade or destroy the Utility of the kind of accurate information gathering necessary to an informed citizenry &  functional democracy. Jefferson once Wrote:

"The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

In much of the country they've been successful. The traditional paper based media have been shut down or consolidated into local monopolies. Broadcast media is taken over by Oligarchs who dictate content. And the new internet media aren't yet up to the task of filling in the gaps.

Thus in rural & small town America many people are subject to controlled information not that much different from what the Communist world subjected their people to.

Hobbling Transparency

This is a security and crime threat locally and nationally. Corruption sprouts where-ever transparency is lacking whether it is Nationally, big business or local government business or public. Letting the news fall into concentrated hands, be reclassified as "entertainment" and be controlled by partisans is itself corrupting. Oligarchy is an end to Democracy.

Threat To Democracy

Concentrated ownership and control of News is a threat to democracy. Locally it threatens oligarchy and local dictatorship. Controlled news leads to bad decisions, kakistocracy and dysfunction.

Short Term Fix is Standing up Parallel Media

The Democrats need to get serious about standing up parallel media and supporting local reporting. The Right Wing are driving these changes and their target is a one party state. They already have an information monopoly in much of the country. And the only institutionalized organization large enough to break that monopoly is the Democratic Party. The Democratic party needs to control parallel lines of communication and get serious about anti-trust and and anti monopoly (long term fixes) and educating the public (short and long term). We need to get serious about fighting corrupt election process and the way to do that is to support local reporting and reporters, who can ferret out and shine a light on local election officials when they engage in fraud or otherwise cheat. The only way to defeat Russian/GOP targeted propaganda is with the force of actual truth telling. That may be annoying to Democrats who still hold office, but lies and calumny are even more devastating.

How to address problem Long Term

The Right wing has a right to their own free speech. However, money is a lot more than free speech, it is "emouluments", "bribery" or undue influence. Emouluments, treason and bribery are the three crimes mentioned in the Constitution. The first amendment belongs to the people not oligarchs. So to address this problem the people, especially locally, need to retrieve and redeem local news. Media needs to be treated as a Utility, and the media needs to be mandated to report local news. And no giant company or rich person should be allowed to own multiple stations or a network unless that network or those stations are run as a Utility. I follow Henry George & Theodore Roosevelt's guidance on Utility:

We must address this with Seven policy changes

  1. Treat the Media as a Utility
  2. Protect Independent news.
  3. Enable local Press by Mandating Coverage of government.
  4. Subsidize the press with soft subsidies (Exemptions, media requirements)
  5. Enforce updated fairness doctrine.
  6. Antitrust measures where needed.
  7. Deconflict media & advertising &

Media As Utility

Communications, Transportation & power  systems are bundles of vital public goods. The goods can be delivered by many actors but the system as a whole has to be managed, controlled and requires legal authority. Privateering fails.

Protect Independent News

The press is a special case in that each news station or news department in a newspaper needs to be independent of local government as a "fourth estate," with privileged income sources and a legally protected status. The Government should not run the press, merely enable its local offices and keep them safe from takeover from centralizing, oligarchic or monopolistic forces. And news departments should be privileged outside of Return on Investment strictures.

Reporting As A Function of Government

Every court or public office has stenographers, reporters, keeps records of public proceedings and needs archivists to store those records. This is a public function but it is also a function that needs to be managed independently of the officers & officials engaging in public functions or secrecy becomes a means to hide dirty dealings. These functions need to be either duplicated by, carried out by, or monitored by news-people and news organizations. or at the very least the law needs to provide unfettered access to members of the press, and press membership be open to all who meet minimal requirements and self policing.

The Press is literally A Watch Dog

The Press is literally Government's Watchdog. It is and should be, to cover the deliberations and actions of government officials. A professional press can balance the transparency & confidential needs of government, which are always in tension. To have a free press the functions of reporting and monitoring government must be independent of interference outside of legitimate function. Coverage of deliberations should be by law. And reporters with that duty should be compensated. Judges, executives and legislators should have all their affairs recorded and those recordings broadcast and reported on unless they have a really good reason to embargo the information for a time. No judge or executive should even have the power to forbid cameras, though they should have the power to embargo their release to the general public for publicly stated valid reasons and a limited time. Things like active investigations, protecting privacy, etc... may be limited exceptions to the broadcast requirement, but they should be public records.

Mandating coverage of government and mandating the press be paid to cover government is a start. But it has to be done in a way that doesn't let officials stop the spigot or bribe the press.

Deconflicting Media and Advertizing

The News Rooms should be self supporting and at the same time somewhat independent of advertisers and owners. The component of advertising that supports the media should have the same influence as other citizens. And everyone should be able to assert a reporting role when they feel it is necessary.

Soft Subsidies

In the early  days of the Press, the Post Office carried news print very cheaply. So Cheaply that folks would buy a newspaper and write letters in the margins and then mail the newspaper. Subsidizing the press is justified by their Government role. Modern subsidies can come through requirements that TV, Radio and Internet Networks provide free access and carry news free, and that they pay for the news rather than making news organizations "make money for them."

An Updated Fairness Doctrine

An updated fairness doctrine simply would require that all media carry the news, local, state or regional, and National. That news outfits have unfettered access to records, information and the public. And that fact checking, slander and libel, defamation and fake information claims be vetted through a formal judicial process including juries and a right to appeal; not through administrative powers. All secrets should have a time limit. Access to legitimate secrets should be to accredited reporters. Denial of such access should be through judicial process, perhaps with Reporter Juries for an informal process, with appeal to formal juries with judges if the outcome is unsatisfactory. And it should be illegal to use secrecy to hide the occurrence of a crime or to punish someone for reporting on a crime.

Independent Media Requires Anti-Trust Firewall

Above all neither Executive, Judicial nor legislative persons, nor monied persons, nor oligarchs nor any kind of large corporation should have editorial control or undue influence over the press, executive, judicial or legislature. The present situation needs to be fixed by forcing the separation of Privateering companies from the news and by letting newsrooms do their jobs professionally.

Thinking about it

Everyone in our country should be considering how to protect the press in this country. For the time being, We are the press

These are my opinion and reflect a lot of thought and consideration. But they are not exhaustive nor complete authority. Related subjects such as Internet freedom, "net neutrality" and such also impact whether we can keep our freedoms.

Further Readings

Free Press:

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