Tuesday, May 10, 2005

"Bill of Media Rights" Further Decomposed

Adam Thierer, in his Blog today, takes apart the underlying presumptions of those who hold that the First Amendment is fundamentally about the people's right of access to private media. The First Amendment "does not serve as an affirmative grant of access to privately owned media."

Rather than repeat Adam's well reasoned and documented argument, you should read it for yourself. Even those who might be sympathetic to the so-called Bill of Media Rights will learn some history and law along the way they might find worthy of debate.

One point Adam brings up was the Supreme Court's Red Lion decision in 1969, which established the justififcation for the right of the government to impose content mandates on broadcasters that only five years later were prohibited to be placed on print media in the Miami Herald v. Torinillo case. I've been waiting for 10 years now for a case to make its way through the courts that would directly challenge Red Lion. The argument that television and radio outlets, which once were severely restricted in number by primitive technology and bad regulatory decisions, should be given lesser First Amendment rights than print has been fatally undermined by improvements in using spectrum and the proliferation of channels being made available by cable, the Internet and finally fiber to the home. Soon it will be easier-- and certainly cheaper-- to construct an audio or even video soapbox than a print soapbox. (Pardon the mixed metaphor-like construction.)

Should you decide not to click to Adam's article, I did want to at least highlight his pentultimate paragraph. Referring to what seems to be the real agenda of many of those who support the ideas behind this so-called Bill of Media Rights, he says they are saying:

The American people want what WE want and what WE want is something different that what we see on networks or outlets that WE don't control. That's why, so they say, it is so important that the government give US control over more of the decisions about media in this country. You see, WE are the enlightened ones who will tell the rest of your ignorant runts what you really need to read, see, or hear. And it all begins by giving US just a little more say over how media is regulated in this country.
This conclusion is much of what I was saying in my entry here yesterday. From ground level, it is manifest in the e-mail exchange I included on page 43 of my new study. My correspondent admits that her anger at Clear Channel Communications is over what she perceives as their support of the Bush Administration. If they had manifestly liberal leanings -- well, it sounds like she wouldn't be so concerned about their ownership position.

As a long time pluralist, I would not want to taint everyone who thinks the media can be better with a single brush. But I believe there is a close parallelism between respect for market mechanisms in the media and democracy. Either you believe that the people have the right to make their decisions about their leaders or about the content they consume based on their own choices -- even if sometimes the choices seem like bad ones to others of us-- or you will head down the road to some form of benevolent authoritarianism.

Scratch some of these media "reform" activists and you will likely find a frustrated editorial writer/producer/publisher-- monopolist.

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