As 'new media' proliferate, does government have a role?
The Federal Trade Commission is holding hearings on whether government should have any regulatory role as blogs and web-only news sites proliferate. It's a red flag for many journalists.
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“These are nothing more or less than information gathering meetings,” says FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan, who adds that the agency has no current plans other than to publish the hearing results this fall. Beyond that, points out Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, protestations aside, government has played a role in encouraging a healthy press from the dawn of the republic.
“First, we had an ink subsidy and then we had a postal subsidy both of which helped a free press to flourish,” she says.
Anti-trust and ensuring access
There are legitimate roles for government with respect to the media, says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. They are primarily in the areas of anti-trust and ensuring access.
“Preventing any one company whether its Viacom or Fox or Steve Jobs from having too much power is a legitimate function of government,” she says adding, “as is ensuring that minorities and rural communities have the same access to the means of communication as others.”
“I can’t find any period in history to compare to the rate and nature of change we are experiencing today,” she says. The debate itself reveals much about the issues facing the country, she adds.
“It’s in the zeitgeist,” she says, “What we are seeing is a response to unspoken angst about what is passing as well as what is emerging. Who will have influence over the flow of information is regarded as critical to the functioning of democratic society.”
The first FTC hearing took place in December, the second in March, and the third and final hearing will take place June 15 at the National Press Club in Washington.