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Argument: Subsidization would damage independence of journalism

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Supporting quotations

L. Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group: "The day that the government gets involved in the news media you see the end of the democratic process, because an independent news media is absolutely essential to the success of a democracy." Bozell said licensing journalists would violate American traditions and was a form of "intellectual prostitution."... "Since when did our Founding Fathers envision that ... you could exercise your right to freedom of speech provided you had a license from the federal government? This is the kind of stuff you have revolutions about," he told[1]

Paul Janensch, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and a former reporter and editor, was quoted in a December 21, 2008 Reuters article: "You can't expect a watchdog to bite the hand that feeds it."[2]

Digby Solomon, publisher of Tribune Co's Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia was quoted saying in a December 28, 2008 Reuters article: "The whole idea of the First Amendment and separating media and giving them freedom of control from the government is sacrosanct."[3]

Dan Kenney. "A government bailout for journalism? No." Media Nation. February 2, 2009: "Maybe I'm just being paranoid. But I can't imagine anything more contrary to the idea of watchdog journalism than funding it with government money."

Joseph Farah. "Bail out newspapers?". World News Net. April 28, 2009: "The central role of a free press in a free society is to serve as a watchdog on government and other powerful institutions. That's why we call the press "the fourth estate." Our founders liked checks and balances. They built them into the governing system they devised in the Constitution. And they also devised, for the first time in human history, special protections for the press – which they hoped would build yet another barrier to tyranny.

And what does Rosa Brooks want to do?

She wants to tear down that barrier.

It's amazing. Yet, I predicted it, because I know these people so well after working shoulder to shoulder with them for so many years. I told you right here there would be calls for government bailouts for newspapers – by the very same people who have been bailing out big government for all these years. And here it is – in black and white and red all over."

"Bad News in Philadelphia. The worst bailout idea so far: newspapers." Wall Street Journal, Editorial. February 2, 2009: "newspapers aren't the lifeblood of anything if they are merely an adjunct of the state. Independent journalism is valuable, but only if it is truly independent. A newspaper that is bankrolled by the state, even if it's only a loan, is going to have a strong interest in not criticizing the state."

Keith Cameron. "Bailing out print journalism would only prolong the inevitable". Northern Star. April 15, 2009: "In her last editorial for the Los Angeles Times, columnist Rosa Brooks openly pleaded for newspapers to receive federal money. 'I... can’t imagine anything more dangerous than a society in which the news industry has more or less collapsed,' Brooks wrote. 'It’s time for a government bailout of journalism.'

Brooks, like others who work for newspapers, sees government money as a magic wand that can solve any problem. However, she does not acknowledge the ethical dilemma tied to federal money. By accepting a bailout check, news markets would be indebted to the government, and reporting would diminish in quality. The Obama administration was able to remove General Motors’ former chief Rick Wagoner because he did not move fast enough to restructure the corporation. Federal money leads to federal influence, and federal influence has no place in journalism."

Gerry Storch. "Government Bailout of Newspapers? Bad Idea". Ezine Article: "Following is an interview with Mickey Alam Khan, editor in chief of Mobile Marketer, a trade publication in New York.

Q: What do you think of the idea being bandied about that governments as a last resort should bail out failing newspapers?

MAK: Not a good idea. Government should not control media. That's what happens in Russia and Venezuela and other tinpot dictatorships.

Newspapers will have to figure out their own business model. If they take government dollars, they will surrender the right to speak freely and without fear. He who pays the piper calls the tune, so expect government-funded newspapers to get cautious advice of not inflaming public opinion or keeping the 'national interest' in mind."

Dr. Douglas Perret Starr, a professor of agricultural journalism at Texas A&M: "It’s a terrible idea, and it is against the Constitution. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights states: 'Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.' If government bails out newspapers, even with a blank check (no controls), government will control not only newspapers, but also every other news outlet ... radio, television, World Wide Web, and whatever else the mind of man can invent. Communist and socialist countries have control of the news media as a means of controlling the people. In such situations, the people will know only what government wants them to know."[4]

Mickey Alam Khan, editor in chief of Mobile Marketer, a trade publication in New York, says about a bailout: "Not a good idea," he says. "Government should not control media. That’s what happens in Russia and Venezuela and other tinpot dictatorships. Newspapers will have to figure out their own business model. If they take government dollars, they will surrender the right to speak freely and without fear.

If you're taking money from the government, you can't keep an eye on it. Even if there were a screening mechanism ... a kind of buffer board in between to shield the journos from the politicos ... it doesn't take much imagination to envision a time when a congressperson or staffer or bureaucrat will put the pressure on behind the scenes to attain positive coverage or stave off negative coverage, using the threat of a curtailed subsidy. Newspapers would forfeit whatever shred of public trust they have remaining

In fact, there might be problems even in reporting the terms of a bailout, as the papers themselves might want to keep their financial information private and confidential. Talk about tying yourself in a knot ..."[5]

Cailin Brown, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Communications, The College of Saint Rose, Albany, N.Y.: "If the federal government opted to include loans to the media in a bailout plan, the issue of prior restraint could become problematic. How would the industry report about the deals? Would all of the information get included, would some get left out because of the proprietary nature of the industry?"[6]

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