27 November 2007

How To Pay for A Free Press

A few days ago I posted on the vicissitudes of independent media, pointing out the irony of the fledgling Toronto-based blackfly magazine simultaneously receiving critical accolades and experiencing a more or less dire financial crisis. In this essay reprinted in Eurozine, André Schiffrin who for many years ran Pantheon and is now a prime mover at The New Press (a "not-for-profit publishing house with titles on educational, cultural, ethnic, and community subjects") addresses the problem of "How to Pay for a Free Press." The central problem seems to be how to insure diversity in media "markets" where the threat of concentration and homogenization is high. As Schriffin makes clear the danger is not just that we risk an anemic cultural ecology but that players in a concentrated are perhaps less likely to resist political pressures when government seeks to restrict information. And, to be clear, government has always provided a scaffolding for the "free press" in the U.S. by, for instance, providing unified, efficient postal service.* This, of course, is simply a specific instance of why enforceable rights presuppose government instead of pre-existing it.** So the issue here is one of institutional design ~ how to create institutions that can sustain a free press organized primarily through a market while at the same time not affording those institutions undue direct influence over how the market operates.
* Paul Starr. 2004. The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications. Basic Books.
** Stephen Holmes & Cass Sunstein. 1999. The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes. W.W. Norton.



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