Thursday, October 16, 2008

What good is freedom of the press
when the presses go silent?

Good comments, and to the point, to my observation the other day that I can't find nationalization of banks in the U.S. Constitution. JN helped me out when he said, "You're reading the wrong document. You'll find what you are looking for in the 5th Plank of the Communist Manifesto, comrade."

Whoop! There it is:
5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
So, although the government buying ownership stakes in banks is not found in that "goddamned piece of paper," the idea is not unique in history. That helped explain my uneasiness with the concept.

While I was reading, my eye was caught by the 6th Plank, which got me to thinkin' — always a dangerous thing:
6. Centralization of the means of communications and transportation in the hands of the State.
Here is the think: The print media is in a hellacious condition right now. You can buy stock in newspapers for a song compared to a couple-three years ago, but not many people are buying anyway. Papers are cutting support staff, cutting circulation staff, and cutting reporters and editors to keep the profit margins respectable. Some papers are doing things like canceling the Monday edition, or cutting back to once or twice and week and putting all their content online instead. They're still profitable businesses — for now — but the actual product is a shadow of what it once was, and there's no end in sight.

The migration of newspapers to the Web is seen as inevitable, and supposedly that's because fewer and fewer people want to read words on paper anymore. First, that's not my experience. Everywhere I turn, I find people who are unhappy with how their favorite newspapers have devolved and wish they would come back.

My think is about what happens if this trend continues to its logical conclusion. Here's the think: Long ago the federal government declared that a radio transmitter is not a printing press, and so freedom of the press was not extended to the electronic media. The Federal Communications Commission (see Plank 6) was created to regulate speech on the airwaves. Generations have now grown up to believe that you can print the word "f#@!" on paper but the government has the right to fine you if you broadcast it on the radio or television.

More serious, the FCC's Fairness Doctrine declared that you can slant your newspaper left, right, up, down or outer space and that's your right, but you can't slant the political debate on your radio or TV. Talk radio, once a vast vanilla wasteland where no one dared to take a stand lest they be forced to give equal time to the other side, has thrived since the Fairness Doctrine was repealed. And as you know, the idea of the Fairness Doctrine still has more than a little support.

The Internet is also an electronic medium. The feds have set a precedent that electronic media are different from presses and can be regulated. Another disadvantage of electronic media is that you can pull the plug.

If we abandon our presses, in other words, we probably abandon our freedom of the press. Our rulers have declared that freedom of the press applies only to presses, not to the dissemination of information in general. And for most of the history of electronic media, few have challenged that declaration.

I plan to spend the rest of my time in this earthly plain on two missions with regard to this subject. One, to preserve news and political speech in print, so that as our rulers increase their stranglehold on electronic expression, we still have an alternative. Two, to get people to start thinking of radio and TV transmitters, and the World Wide Web, as the modern equivalent of the printing press. If the First Amendment has any meaning at all, there's no reason why the electronic press can be regulated any more than the printing press.

If we fail in mission #1 before a tipping point of people grok #2, and if news in print disappears, then the government has set the precedent that it controls the content of the remaining means of communication. It can't easily reverse centuries of tradition that we can print without government interference or regulation. But the momentum is on the side of the belief that government interference and regulation in the realm of electronic expression is appropriate, and so the decline of newspapers and print news in general is a good thing for Big Government.

I don't know that our rulers are consciously communist. Calling someone a commie is so fifties. But those 10 planks work just as well if the goal is a totalitarian government that gives nothing more than lip service to liberty. And we're well on our way to that place.

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Anonymous lewlew said...

Let me know if you need any help with the press part. I think I know someone with the equipment and skills to help ;)

Wonderful post, BTW. Very thought-provoking.

4:51 PM  

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