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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press.

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May 28, 2008 4:32 PM

Consolidation, unasked questions, TV news & the First Amendment

Posted by Ryan Blethen

"Media consolidation was done with so much debt it has allowed bankers and Wall Street into the tent, resulting in too much of the profits being required to pay off debt. Public ownership of media has not been good for media quality or for the ability of media owners to manage for the future."

Those are not the words of some raving media reformer that might pop up on this blog from time to time. That is a quote from David Rubin, the outgoing dean of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Rubin, who has been dean for 18 years, pointed out the obvious in an interview with the Jack Myers Business Report.

A refreshing comment from the head of an esteemed institution. It would be great if the deans of America's journalism schools put some effort toward thwarting media consolidation. Understandable that some or most might tread lightly as to not tick off any potential donnors or jeopardize funding from the big public chains. How far does the industry need to be damaged by these chains though before deans step in to help preserve meaningful jobs for students? Or are moved to ensure the press continues to play its vital role in democracy?

Rubin ruminated on much more than media consolidation in the interview. I was happy to see his list of questions for the presidential candidates. Much different fare than what is currently being served up by the press. Rubin wants to know:

"First, in appointing future Supreme Court and Appeals Court justices, what views on the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, petition, and religion would you want these persons to hold?

"Second, how would each of you handle access to your Presidential papers upon completion of the term? Do you believe you have ownership, or does the public have ownership and a right of access?

"Third, how would you as President instruct executive branch agencies to respond to requests under the Freedom of Information act? Would you facilitate the public's right to know about what the government is doing, or would you opt for secrecy?

"Fourth, how often would you hold press conferences?

"Fifth, how comfortable are you with the current definition of classified information? What should be truly secret, versus what is only embarrassing? How long would it take your administration to declassify information?

"Sixth, what is your position on the subject of indecent speech on radio and television? Was the FCC correct in penalizing broadcasters more harshly in the past six years for bad language and sexual content?

"Seventh, where do you stand on Net Neutrality; that is, the question of access to Internet service? Do large users of bandwidth deserve special privileges, or should the internet be regulated like the old Ma Bell?

"Eighth, what is your position on the current level of media consolidation, and would you support loosening rules on how large cable systems and broadcast groups can be?

"Ninth, what do you think about student free speech? Should high school students be able to publish newspapers without censorship, or demonstrate on school grounds?"

Rubin goes on to lament the demise of television news and what the Bush administration has meant for the First Amendment. He said:

"the Bush administration has brilliantly realized the First Amendment does not provide journalists with the tools to gather information. It only guarantees the rights to publish it. Bush has been brilliant at reducing what journalists know. They have increased the definition of what is classified; taken information out of the public domain; they have terrorized administration sources by threatening them with jail if they talk to journalists; and punished people in government who are caught talking to journalists. They have instructed agencies to be less responsive to requests under the Freedom of Information Act. If journalists know less, they will publish less. Today, it is much more difficult to learn about our government."

The entire interview is worth a read. The story can be found here.

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