TRR: Goodbye Press Freedom: Occupy Wall Street Proposing Government Controlled Media

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You would think the members of the Occupy Wall Street movement would be grateful to the media for all the attention they are getting. But according to the draft “American People’s New Economic Charter,” the group is discussing ways to bring an end to freedom of the press as we know it. Rather than calling for more decentralized free media, citizen journalism, blogging, tweeting and so forth, the occupiers are proposing creating a centralized, top-down communications system, subsidized, monitored and controlled by the government. 

The charter envisions the government assuming much broader responsibilities in educating and employing journalists. The charter suggests subsidizing “journalism in institutions of higher education and all forms of public access media according to need, regardless of political position.” And freshly-minted government-subsidized journalists can look forward to government-subsidized jobs. The charter recommends “Increase[d] funding for public media outlets, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” The authors want to use “the existing Federal public relations budget” (whatever that is) “to pay for real freedom of the press.” Why they think that being paid for and controlled by the government would give journalists “real freedom” is puzzling. Investigative journalism focusing on government misdeeds would be particularly problematic, since it would be biting the hand that feeds. In practical terms the occupiers’ plan is a recipe for ceaseless government misbehavior with no chance of the public ever knowing about it.

In the new regime the self-policing function of journalism, or even the watchdog function of bloggers and other independent fact-checkers would be discarded in favor of government-based oversight. The charter suggests a “Truth in Journalism” law along the lines of “Truth in Advertising” regulations “whereby the FCC is required by law to report on journalistic errors and intentional deception.” But being able to prove intentional deception would involve giving the FCC a broad array of investigative powers. Chilling effect, schmilling effect.

For those media consumers who lack critical thinking skills, fear not. The charter asserts that “a clear distinction must be made between informative fact-based programs and columns, and op-ed programs and columns.” Most people tend to pick up these differences on their own – in case you were wondering, Washington Times opinion articles are in a separate section clearly marked “Commentary.” But the authors of the charter are interested in protecting the lowest common denominator media consumer from accidentally mistaking opinion for fact, or maybe vice-versa. The charter suggests “warning stamps required next to the program stamps letting people know if the program is opinion based vs fact,” which is really a false dichotomy since any opinions worth reading have a strong factual basis. Besides, the problem in the media today is not fact-based opinion, but opinion-based facts.

There was a disagreement over how the press should handle war reporting. One poster suggested mandating “no reporting on wars, like the 60’s - misleads us into forgetting about military expenses.” It’s hard to understand what this means exactly since in the 1960s there was a lot of reporting on wars, Vietnam in particular, and it did anything but make people forget military expenses. But another poster took issue with this proposed bit of censorship, arguing “there will be no war, so that’s moot. The government will have one media center in which it broadcasts/reports on its news. Who do these warmongers think are going to attack us?” Well, regardless of who the attacker is, if they mount a first strike on the government’s “one media center” no Americans will even know there is a war on.

The charter adds, helpfully, that “There is no democracy without the free flow of information.” Which argues against 99% of what the occupiers are proposing.

Government Mandated Warning: The Robbins Report is the completely biased opinion of one increasingly perplexed writer.

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About the Author

James S. Robbins

James S. Robbins, Ph.D., former Senior Editorial Writer for Foreign Affairs, was formerly professor of international relations at the National Defense University, associate professor of international relations at the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College and special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense under Donald Rumsfeld. Dr. Robbins is author of the recently released "This Time ...

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