Columbia University president Lee Bollinger's support in a Wall Street Journal oped last week for radical proposals for government funding of favored media organizations in an effort to "save" traditional journalism from the Internet sparked more discussion of the controversy in the Blogosphere, including my own most recent critique of the idea.
The main impetus behind the drive to have government become much more heavily involved in funding of journalism than it already is comes from the Free Press Coalition, headed by Prof. Robert McChesney.
Besides pushing for government funding and other forms of official involvement in media, McChesney is among the most high-profile defenders of the policies of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who has all but destroyed what was once a thriving independent news media.
But not everybody on the left shares the enthusiasms of advocates like Bollinger and McChesney. Two of the most prominent bloggers on the left side of the Blogosphere are Oliver Willis, a Washington, D.C.-based political activist and analyst with a significant cyber following, and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of the Daily Kos. Kos was co-author with Jerome Armstrong of "Crashing the Gate."
Turns out Willis and Moulitsas are anything but on board with the idea of government funding - read "takeover" - of print and broadcast news organizations.
Willis, for example, tweeted this observation:"If you think corporate entanglements cause problems in the news, govt entanglement is just as bad." And he tweeted that "America's got a long tradition of privately-funded journalism. just because some papers are dying doesnt mean thats over."
Willis branded as "insane" the proposal for a media subsidy to be paid for with a new federal tax on electronic equipment like iPODs, cell phones, and DVR players, and said "we've got far better and important things to do in government" than subsidize journalism.
Moulitsas was equally fervent in his criticism, tweeting that "there's never been more news available to Americans. Just b/c some outlets can't hack it, doesn't mean news is in crisis." Of Bollinger's piece, Moulitsas said: "Good gawd, Columbia's president pushes starting an American BBC, pooling VoA, RFE, PBS, NPR."
It also appears that what seemed until very recently to be strong support for the Free Press program or something very much like within the Obama administration has now begun to cool.
The Federal Trade Commission has been the primary government agency looking at the issue and recently made public a staff report on potential approaches to government support of media. But FTC's Obama-appointed chairman, Jon Liebowitz, recently rejected three of the core ideas advocated by Free Press.
In an interview with Broadcasting & Cable magazine, Liebowitz said this of the tax-funded subsidy: "I think any approach involving taxes is a really bad idea. We are always willing to listen to folks, but I can’t imagine the commission supporting any policy that would involve taxing one or another industry to subsidize news. That’s a bad idea."
Liebowitz also rejected the idea of major revisions in anti-trust law to enable media organizations to more closely pool resources, saying "I think the commission would have concerns about endorsing any sort of antitrust exemption. I certainly would. I am glad to see that that initial proponents of that idea have appeared to back off."
Finally, of a tax on broadcast spectrum as a revenue source for government media subsidies, Liebowitt said: "A tax on broadcast spectrum? From my perspective, a really bad idea-a nonstarter."
Do not assume, however, that these comments from the FTC chairman mean the effort to increase government's role in funding and managing the news media will end.