FTC Chair: Government-Funded Journalism is 'a Danger'

It is hardly news that the American newspaper industry is failing.


At least seven different newspaper chains have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in recent years, including the Tribune Co. and The Rocky Mountain News, which closed in December 2008 after nearly 150 years in business.


The Federal Trade Commission is scrambling to find a way to save the industry rather than let the market work by allowing an outdated model to fail. But even the head of the FTC thinks a federal bailout of journalism is a bad idea.


On CNN’s “Reliable Sources” June 13, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz acknowledged that government funding of journalism is “a danger” to an impartial press.

“I personally think it’s a horrible idea for the government to give any kind of funding, because it carries the aura of politicization,” Kurtz said. “Do you agree that’s a danger?”


“Well, I certainly agree it's a danger,” Leibowitz said. But, he defended FTC panels considering that option. “And, you know, again, the commission hasn't recommended a single one of these ideas. Really, it's just the process we always go through,” he said.


“But on the other hand, if there are some things that, you know, could be done to ensure the future of journalism, maybe even not by government, by the way, you know, people ought to look at them,” Leibowitz said.


Leibowitz claimed that the FTC is simply taking ideas through workshops from a range of members of the media. He noted that a federal bailout of the industry would be politically difficult, but seemed to leave the door open for such an option.


“Look, I think anything that would have a financial impact is clearly -- if it's up to Congress, would probably be a nonstarter. But I also think, again, the nature of journalism is changing. We want to preserve a future of journalism. I think everybody does,” Leibowitz said.


In spite of Leibowitz’s apparent tolerance for federal bailout proposals, his anti-bailout language might give comfort to those who support letting the future of print journalism take a more natural course. The fate of journalism, they say, should rest in the hands of the free market rather than the federal government.


Jeff Jarvis, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Journalism for the City University of New York, wrote in The New York Post that government intervention was inappropriate and unnecessary to preserve journalism’s future.


“I believe that future is entrepreneurial, not institutional,” Mr. Jarvis wrote. “But those entrepreneurs don’t need government help. They need to be left alone with the assurance they won’t be interfered with by the FTC.”