Saturday, June 23, 2012

A well regulated Media, being necessary to the security of...

I can’t get enough of online social media.

You probably already know this: you’re 99.99% likely to be reading this at my public Facebook page. My regular stream of posted links demonstrates it – as does my still-expanding waistline.

There’s also the occasional game session via Facebook’s apps.

Read through my body of writings and you’ll see that a number of my essays are the product of comment-section debates or even a direct copy-and-paste of an entry in one of those exchanges.

When it comes to my private timeline, I’ve allowed myself to become swept-up in the latest craze of “Sharing” pictures (you know, this current trend of activity that has Facebook looking suspiciously a lot like MySpace). I have no doubt my indulgence of said trend is to the chagrin of my friends who are less libertarian than me.

However, one “Share” by someone on my friends list shortly ago has my mind’s red flags waving as if a meteor strike were impending.

I am largely in agreement with the graphic in question, which explores the various forms of doublespeak which have been circulating through the mainstream media (particularly over the last 10 years) – that is, except for the statement, “Well, that’s what happens when governments transfer the public airwaves to private corporations in a practice known as deregulation.”

While much of the other commentary contained in it is a legitimate criticism of what our federal government has been doing for far too long, I am curious how one is able to argue that the best remedy for inadequate scrutiny of governmental activity is to put operation of broadcast media (news media in particular) in the hands of the same government.

The author of the graphic points to the embedding of reporters among our military while they are in theater – thus compromising their objectivity when it comes to covering all that transpires.

That last point is a valid one. However, to use it as the basis for arguing – or even suggesting – we need greater regulation of media (if not outright handing-over of the airwaves entirely to a government monopoly) is to miss the point completely of the following axiom in the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...”

To belabor my point, how does it make sense to put any form of media under the control or constraints of government if its first-and-foremost function is to keep watch over the actions of government?

I contend that, even in their present state of so-called deregulation, America’s major media operations have been doing a good-enough job of serving as lapdogs for the elected and appointed statists – without making them outright agents of the state.

Additionally, given the size and scope of the Federal Communication Commission’s authority (especially in recent years), the whole notion of the airwaves lacking for regulation is downright laughable.

Further problems I have with any pro-regulation argument is the fact our understanding of concepts such as “speech” and “press” has necessarily had to evolve with the advent first of radio broadcasting, followed by television, then cable and satellite transmissions, the Internet, and now wireless handheld electronics.

“Speech” and “press” arguably can (if not must) be thought-of under the blanket delineation of “media” – with “media” being afforded the exact same constitutional protection today as “speech and press” were understood to enjoy 225 years ago.

If this notion does not reign supreme in the consciousness of our society we run the risk of it embracing such rationales as the airwaves are public domain and even the Internet is a public utility – thus both must be governed in the same manner as a utility.

What would be the next domino in the row to fall: independent blogging along with video posting (a la YouTube) inevitably suffering the same fate as all other independent enterprises in any hyper-regulated industry?

For example, independent farm operations are being steadily squeezed out of existence by an ever-growing body of laws and regulations that are popularly perceived to exist in order to keep large corporate agricultural and food production operations in line – all in the name of public safety for the masses at large.

Just look at the growing crackdown by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on independent operators offering farm-fresh versions of products such as milk, cheese, and eggs in rural locales. This development in the regulatory nanny state is the inevitable next stage in the progression of a government that believes it exists to save us all from ourselves.

Consider the consequences of, for example, taking the equivalent approach by the USDA toward Amish farmers and applying them in the realm of traditional and new media.

Imagine if the provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 (thankfully which had key components struck-down by the U.S. Supreme Court in its January 2010 decision in the Citizens United case) were still in play and even expanded via interpretation by the courts to hold dominion over online activity. What would become of print and broadcast media – and potentially any electronic access to information – if such laws and regulations were applied by the FCC with the same tenacity local produce co-ops have had to endure at the hands of the USDA.

Pardon my boldness, but I’ll gladly take my chances with media in our nation being able to take to the presses, airwaves, and Net – free of regulatory circumscription.