Wednesday, December 15, 2010

CJR: Media Policy in the Digital Age

Columbia Journalism Review open letter to the FCC about a media policy for the digital age. The letter is long and this a small sample that sets up the discussion (CJR)

The question you confront is not whether the government should allocate public funds to shape media and journalism. It already does. We have inherited a policy regime that is breathtaking in its scope and impact, and that goes well beyond mail subsidies and CPB funds, important though those have been. It exists in part because journalism is a form of commerce that must be taxed and regulated like all other commerce. Also, a great deal of journalism is influenced by government regulation because it is delivered across public or quasi-public property: the airwaves, government-granted cable monopolies, satellite bands, and the like. It would be no wiser to abandon altogether the policies that set rules and allocate funds across this system than it would be to stop regulating oil leases in ocean waters or maintaining public parks.

The problem is that the media policies that govern us in 2010—a patchwork stitched from the ideas of Calvin Coolidge’s Republican Party, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, and Ronald Reagan’s deregulatory wave—have been overtaken by technological change.

From the country’s founding, American media and journalism have been continually remade by technological innovation. Political pamphlets made room for industrially printed newspapers, which made room for the telegraph, which made room for radio, which made room for broadcast television, which made room for cable and satellite services, which made room for the World Wide Web, which is making room even as we read this for the Kindle, iPad, and mobile phone applications.


That is not a matter of left versus right, or of competition between political parties; it concerns the health of civil society. A campaign to reform and revitalize public media waged to advance such a vision will have many constituents: rural states left out of the urban media cacophony; independent voters and engaged citizens searching for reason and cross-checked facts, as well as in-depth reporting that will hold power to account; diverse community and ethnic groups seeking more inclusive sources of information; educators and public health institutions seeking reliable channels of public-minded reporting about subjects too often neglected; and politicians of all ideological stripes whose careers are unreasonably endangered by undisciplined, self-interested electronic publishers.

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