Baker Says Government Should Stay Out of Journalism

Commissioner believes it's dangerous for Washington to resolve field's fundamental challenges
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In a speech to The Media Institute in Washington on the future of journalism, FCC
Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker conceded that like many other industries,
journalism is at a crossroads. But she said she disagreed that government needed
to step in to fund the business.

"I oppose the proposition that at the first sign of a
challenge the government should step in and fix it," she said. "Our
nation has flourished for over 200 years with a strong independent press as a
check on government abuse.  This tradition should not be discarded so
easily. "

She said tomorrow's journalist won't be a "a man with a
fedora and a typewriter," but that the core attributes should remain"
objective, fact-based reporting that uncovers the truth about power and
powerful interests, private and public.

Among those core values are independence from government,
she suggests. Citing a proposal by former Washington
Post
editor Len Downie for a national local news fund administered by
grant-making bodies, she says no thanks. "However well-intentioned and
well-crafted, I vote no on this public option.  Direct government funding
of journalism is the wrong answer," she says.

She said it was dangerous for industry to start looking to Washington to resolve
"fundamental challenges to their business," adding that "bailing
out" journalism could hamper commercial efforts by journalists to help
themselves.

And lost in the discussion, she says, is the First
Amendment. Pointing to government postal subsidies in the early days of the
country, as some proponents of the public option have done, does not justify
government intervention, she said. "We must be wary of any attempts to let
the government foxes into the henhouses of the press."

But Baker did not foreclose any role for government. For
instance, she said, it was worth the FCC considering as it reviews ownership
rules, whether it would be helpful for newspapers to take advantage of other
digital platforms in a market. She stopped short of endorsing an end to the ban
on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership, but she did say: "I am hopeful we
will address the concerns of parties that our current rules - based on a far
different media landscape - inhibit innovative and new forms of journalism and
newsgathering."

Another element of what she said could be the government's
"modest role" in helping the media is protecting content. "As
journalists experiment with how best to seek compensation online, media
companies will need the tools necessary to protect against piracy and enforce
their copyright.  I am hopeful that any Open Internet rules adopted by the
Commission deal directly with measures to curb illegal content online,"
she said.

Baker also gave a shout-out to broadband adoption, pointing
out that new online media models need connected customers, and to more
government transparency. 

Baker's comments came the same day the FCC
launched an initiative
examining the future of the media, including the
traditional delivery of news and civic information.

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