Republican FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker cited the First Amendment and a 200-year tradition of a strong independent press as reasons to allow the journalism industry to work through its present challenges and build a new business model, and argued that the government has no place in the business.
Baker was speaking at the National Religious Broadcaster’s Capitol Hill Media Summit.
“The First Amendment provides clear guidance when it comes to the freedom of the press and the freedom of religion,” said Baker. “This country has thrived, and our political powers have been balanced by, a vibrant independent press.
Citing former Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s opinion that the Constitution counts on the press to hold government accountable, Baker continued, “We should not abandon nor tweak this tradition merely due to changing circumstances. Ironically, proponents of reform seek to protect journalism by undermining its core. Without true independence from government, the press could not serve its proud role as a check on governmental authority.”
Baker is fully aware of current challenges, but also sees opportunity. She summarized her view of the situation.
“I say this with full appreciation of the complexity and challenges facing traditional news outlets. I don’t have to tell you that the media industry is facing unparalleled change. Like numerous industries, broadcasting is at an important transition point between a traditionally robust market position and a future filled with unknowns. This future provides great uncertainty and great opportunity. On top of economic shifts are real human costs. Professional journalists are struggling to adjust to job losses, shrinking budgets, and new business models. The journalist at the end of this transition will probably be different from his predecessor: my money says it will not be a man with a fedora and a typewriter. The form and function of journalism may also be different in the future, but the core attributes—objectivity, accuracy and creativity—must remain, so that we have journalists working to inform the public, even when it means uncovering the truth about powerful interests and uncomfortable controversies.”
She said she expects things to turn around, based on “the vibrancy of traditional and new media” and the “entrepreneurial spirit of journalists and media companies.”
Baker said that the government does have a role, but that it consisted of making sure the rules and regulations help rather than hinder the journalism business from successfully doing its job.
RBR-TVBR observation: Journalism is taking a double hit – changing technology and a sour economy are magnifying problems. But Baker is right – the economy will eventually right itself and new business models will emerge. And the last thing we want when that happens is a not-so-free press reliant on any sort of government intervention.