Journalism Needs Government Help
IN HIS OP/ED FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES THIS JULY 14TH, LEE BOLLINGER, PRESIDENT OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MADE HIS CASE FOR MORE GOVERNMENT FUNDING FOR JOURNALISM HERE IN THE U.S. I FIND HIS THOUGHTS ON THE SUBJECT FAR FROM CONCLUSIVE. “In the 1960s, our network of public broadcasting was launched with direct public grants and a mission to produce high quality journalism free of government propaganda or censorship.” I HAVE TO ASK, “DID IT WORK?” WHAT I FIND MOST DISCONCERTING IN MR. BOLLINGER’S APPROACH TO THE SUBJECT ON HOW THE MEDIA IS AFFECTED BY FUNDING IS THAT HE CHOOSES TO USE PROPOGANDA AND CENSORSHIP AS VERY SIMPLISTIC NOTIONS. WHAT I’M GETTING AT HERE IS THAT THE MERE ACT OF CHOOSING WHAT IS TO BE INCLUDED IN “THE NEWS” IS A FORM OF CENSORSHIP. THE IDEA THAT THE GRANT MONEY WILL COME WITHOUT STRINGS HAS NO HISTORICAL PRECIDENT. THE ONLY SOLUTION IS MULTIPLE OUTLETS. PERIOD.
WHAT MR. BOLLINGER NEEDS TO BE ASKED IS IF HE LIKES THE IDEA OF A CONSERVATIVE AS MANAGING EDITOR AT THIS NEWLY CREATED INSTITUTION?” I GUESS NOT. TO ME THIS IS A TACIT ADMISSION OF THE IMPORTANCE OF WHO GETS TO CHOOSE WHAT IS “NEWS.”
WHAT IS INEXCUSABLE IS THAT HE THINKS THAT THE SYSTEM WE AND THE BRITTS CURRENTLY HAVE IS SOMEHOW UNTAINTED BY GOVERNMENT FUNDS.
The reliable public funding structure, as well as a set of professional norms that protect editorial freedom, has yielded a highly respected and globally powerful journalistic institution.
There are examples of other institutions in the U.S. where state support does not translate into official control. The most compelling are our public universities and our federal programs for dispensing billions of dollars annually for research. Those of us in public and private research universities care every bit as much about academic freedom as journalists care about a free press.
I THINK WHAT HE MEANS BY “EDITORIAL FREEDOM” IS FREEDOM FROM CONSERVATIVE INFLUENCE. HE USES PUBLIC EDUCATION AS AN EXAMPLE. THIS ONLY UNDERMINDS HIS CASE. IS THE GOVERNMENT HANDING OUT FUNDS FOR RESEARCH INTO GLOBAL COOLING? HOW ABOUT THE YOUNG EARTH THEORY? HOW ABOUT ABSTINENCE ED?
HE CLOSES WITH THIS NAIVE NOTION OF CENSORSHIP AGAIN BY PROCLAIMING THE POSSIBILITY OF, “FULL JOURNALISTIC INDEPENDENCE.”
This system needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters. The goal would be an American broadcasting system with full journalistic independence that can provide the news we need. Let’s demonstrate great journalism’s essential role in a free and dynamic society.
I KIND OF LIKE THE SOUND OF HIS IDEA. IT WILL NOT YIELD “FULL JOURALISTIC INDEPENDENCE,” HOWEVER. THE GRANTERS OF MONEY WILL STILL BE IN CONTROL EVEN IF IT IS JUST IN WHO THEY CHOOSE TO HEAD THE AGENCY. AFTER ALL, WHAT DENOTES “GREAT JOURNALISM”?