Blaser: Freedom of the press prone to government incursion

Randy Blaser
Randy Blaser

Throughout my journalism career, I have always tried to remember the words of a fellow classmate from my graduate school days, who ended a debate about government interference with a free press with the words: “They made it the First Amendment for a reason.”

It was clear that the “They” he referred to was the Founding Fathers. And it was also clear that the free press clause was in the First Amendment, not the Third, or the Sixth, or the 10th, because it was paramount to the creation and endurance of the Republic.

To those of us weaned on Vietnam and Watergate, the greatest danger to the Free Press was government. “Congress shall make no law.” It says nothing about everyone owning a press.

Government obstruction. Government cloaked in secrecy. Government dishing out misinformation. Government’s refusal to divulge information. Those are the dangers to a free press.

Now comes the Obama Administration, in the form of the Federal Communications Commission, which sees a different danger. There is no concern about a free press here. Instead, the worrisome problem is whether the “Critical Information Needs” of the people are being met by media organizations and media outlets. In other words, the greatest danger to “Critical Information Needs” of the people is the free press.

That’s quite an inversion of reality.

And leave it to a government bureaucracy to come up with that Orwellian phrase for news.

And how does the government intend to determine whether news outlets — and they include broadcast, radio, newspapers, and even bloggers and social media as news outlets — are meeting the information needs of citizens?

They are going to monitor and question media owners, editors, reporters, producers and news-gatherers about news philosophy, staff demographics, story selection, beat assignments, story assignments, story angles and even ask reporters to snitch on their editors when they argue about coverage and story angles.

The government also plans to ask citizens where they would try to get information about a number of “What if” scenarios. These scenarios are highly specific situations that are usually the daily function of government bureaucrats, not daily headlines

You don’t stop the presses about whether someone knows how to apply for food stamps, or where to get drinking water tested if it smells funny, or where to get extra help for your highly gifted student or where to get information about a gas leak if the attendant only speaks Spanish, or where to vote.

Other “What if” scenarios are left of the list, such as: Where would you get information about how many black or Hispanic motorists are stopped by your local police compared to white motorists, or where to compare your representatives voting record to campaign contributions, or where to find out if your congressman uses your campaign contributions buy jewelry for his mistress, or why your school board fired a popular teacher, or how many party hacks are working on a government payroll, or why your government reads your e-mails and monitors your phone calls.

I could go on and on, but I guess my news philosophy doesn’t fit in with what the government — and I don’t care if you call it Obama or Nixon — sees as the Critical Information Needs of the people.

But I guarantee if the people in power need it, you don’t need to know about it.

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