Federal Trade Commission Looking Into Range of Fixes for News Industry

Commission launches new series, "Can News Media Survive the Internet Age?"
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Posted at 1:06 p.m. ET

The Federal Trade Commission is concerned about the future of news on TV and radio as well as newspapers.

The FTC has launched a new series entitled "Can News Media Survive the Internet Age? Competition, Consumer Protection and the First Amendment," and will consider a range of fixes including possible non-profit models.

In announcing the series, the FTC said: "The news industry is in transition. Newspapers have lost much of their classified advertising revenues to online services, and some question how they will weather the development of targeted behavioral and other online advertising, online news aggregators, and other factors. How cable, broadcast, and other news organizations will respond to similar challenges is under discussion. Some predict that in a few years, television and radio will find themselves in situations similar to those facing newspapers."

In announcing the workshops-the first one is not slated until Sept. 15-new FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said that while other industries have had to transition to new business models in response to Internet competition, with consumers generally benefiting in the process, "the news business may be different because of the First Amendment values at stake. Whether we get our news from ink on paper, TV, radio, laptops, or mobile devices, we need a strong news industry for our democracy to thrive."

Up for discussion, according to the FTC, will be the roles of targeted behavioral advertising, online advertising, copyright protection, antitrust exemptions and more. Journalists, bloggers, privacy experts, direct marketers, online advertisers, academics and consumer advocates will all be part of that discussion.

Congress has held a couple of hearings already, focused almost exclusively on the economic problems of newspapers.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, who has been a leading voice on behavioral marketing and privacy issues, is concerned that the workshops will provide media companies an opportunity to justify targeted ad practices as a last-ditch effort to save the news business. "The media industry is going to use these FTC hearings as a forum to declare that unless we invade American's privacy with behavioral advertising, what is left of our news gatherers will be laid off," he says. "This is going to be a key lobbying moment."

"The wholesale invasion of consumer privacy isn't the lifeboat that is going to keep the industry afloat," says Chester. But if they are going to use behavioral targeting, he says, "they are going to have to embrace meaningful consumer protection rules."

The FTC is likely to become more active on issues like the broadcast news business and network neutrality as the new administration hones its consumer-protection focus on issues previously more the province of the FCC, and as it becomes more active in antitrust enforcement.

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