This year already we’ve heard calls for reintroduction of the Fairness Doctrine, and Internet censorship. Now, the first call for public funding for newspapers is here. Lining up behind GM and AIG, media outlets could join the many “distressed businesses” begging for government aid.
But, government funding for media – nationalization of the press – is no small step. Right now we have just PBS and NPR. Generally seen as left-wing outlets, these media sources are not shy to support government expansion, but maintain some independence. However, this is assuredly because they face stiff competition from other sources.
In recent decades, both the variety and partisanship of news media has increased. It is not a coincidence that the two have come together. In competing fiercely for customers, entrepreneurs have put together specialized products to fill every niche. News outlets have become more specialized and technical as well. A lively market has emerged, with broad freedom to criticize and express a full spectrum of viewpoints. But this could all change.
There have even been calls to extend the fairness doctrine to television in addition to radio. If the Fairness Doctrine is reinstated, and restricts the freedom of expression so critical to variety and competition on the radio and the airwaves, it will result in a smaller and more monopolized market. This market will be much easier for government sponsored media to dominate. When there is little competition in a market, and the biggest firms get government subsidies, it soon becomes difficult for any competitor to refuse aid. Add to this the proposed censorship of the Internet, and the free press could become a thing of the past.
When the press in a country must crawl to government for funding, free speech withers and then is finally stamped out. It won’t happen over night, but the first step would be government bailouts for private newspapers. Then more regulations like the Fairness Doctrine would begin to be imposed – after all, you can’t expect government money without abiding by certain rules – and finally outright censorship. To prevent this dangerous trend, we must refrain from bailing out the press.