Thursday, June 24, 2010

FTC, please stay out of my journalism

Thankfully, FTC chairman Jonathan Leibowitz thinks it's a "terrible idea" to subsidize journalism through a tax on consumer electronics.

He was responding to recommendations put forth in the FTC's recently published document, "Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism."

The FTC has come under fire for considering such silly ideas as bailing out journalism by taxing technology, cellphone data plans and advertising.

But the organization wants everyone to know that the document in question is not a proposal by the FTC, rather a discussion of recommendations put forth by various parties.

The recommendation for a 5% tax on CE was "an idea submitted to the FTC's staff as part of workshops we've been holding since last year," writes FTC Deputy Public Affairs Director Peter Kaplan in an email to CE Pro. "It was never FTC's proposal or recommendation ...."

He adds, "The FTC hasn't even finished holding the workshops yet, much less made any recommendations. We hope to release a report in the fall, which may or may not include recommendations."

Kaplan points to a press release that was distributed on June 4.

See, no wonder we need to reinvent journalism! Damn reporters got this story all wrong.

Read on for my response to Mr. Kaplan ...

Open letter to Peter Kaplan:

First, even though the reinventing-journalism document is a compilation of recommendations, not a recommendation or proposal itself, someone made the decision to include some ideas and exclude others, right?

So someone in the FTC thinks it at least a passable idea to tax the technologies that evidently are killing journalism.

This is what we in the media call "setting the agenda."

Washington Examiner reporter Mark Tapscott puts it beautifully in his piece, "Evasive FTC wants it both ways on 'reinventing journalism'"

So [in reponse to the FTC's PR] I asked the agency's deputy public affairs director, Peter Kaplan, if the inclusion of any idea in the working draft thereby made it at least possible that it would subsequently be endorsed by the agency.

Kaplan, a former Reuters reporter, hemmed and hawed a bit but said yes. So, contrary to the press office statement, the decision of FTC staff members to include a selection of ideas in a menu of ideas any one of which could ultimately become official government policy constituted a form of endorsement. This is called trying to have it both ways: These aren't our ideas but we endorsed them before we didn't.
In any case, it is silly for the government to even contemplate a reinvention of journalism, much less play a role in rewarding news organizations for their outmoded business practices.

Finally, I would like chairman Leibowitz to repudiate the idea of a tax on advertising and cellphone service with the same resolution as he denounced the tax in CE.

Read all the gory details:
Uncle Sam: 5% Tax on CE Products Could Save Journalism (06.07.2010)
FTC Chairman: Tax on CE is ‘Terrible Idea’ (06.10.2010)
FTC Responds to Stories on CE Tax (06.10.2010)

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