Waxman Sees Role For Government In New Journalism Model

House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said the government will need to consider stepping in to help save journalism, but he says Congress can't simply impose a solution on the media industry.

That came in a speech to a Federal Trade Commission workshop Wednesday on the future of journalism.

"We cannot risk the loss of an informed public and all that that means" because of market failure, Waxman said. But he also said the government would need to tread carefully and he set up some ground rules for considering possible solutions that ranged from tax law changes and nonprofit status to antitrust law changes to a review of "cross-media laws that may constrain the commercial vitality of the industry." He said he had an open mind about all the proposals and thought they should all be discussed.

Waxman said the following criteria should be considered for evaluating any response.

First, he said, there should be consensus both inside and outside the media industry that the proposal is in the public interest. Second, it would need bipartisan support and "vigorous enforcement from both sides of the aisle." He said any public model would have to address the concern that "government control of journalism would lead to government control of content," as well as articulating the scope and dollars required, plus what the source of revenues would be.

Free Press, for one, welcomed government support of news and the fact that Congress and the FTC are paying attention to the issue. Free Press does not support loosening antitrust prohibitions or cross-media limits as part of that effort, but did give a shout out to Waxman's suggestion about new tax structures, more philanthropic support and public funding.

"Chairman Waxman was spot-on in his call for better policies to foster quality journalism. Government has played an important role in news and journalism since its earliest days," said Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver in a statement. "As the media landscape evolves, policymakers have a responsibility to the public to create policies that can support better journalism and newsgathering."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.