The Federal Communications Commission has released its final report on "Information Needs of Communities." This is different from the Federal Trade Commission staff report, which came out a year ago and which attracted some attention here for its suggestion of "a 5% tax on consumer electronics, and a 2% sales tax on advertising" to fund "citizenship news vouchers" that would give every American tax money to allocate to non-profit news organizations of their choice. The FCC, by contrast, recommends a more restrained approach: "Most of the solutions to today's media problems will be found by entrepreneurs, reporters, and creative citizens, not legislators or agencies. Government cannot 'save journalism.' Indeed, the media landscape is evolving so rapidly that heavy-handed regulatory intervention dictating media company behavior could backfire, distorting markets in unhelpful ways. "
The FCC report also recommends against proposals to fund public media by taxing advertising. It singled out for praise a right-of-center think tank:
At least some reporters need to be reporters, not propagandists. One inspiring model is the John Locke Foundation, a free-market foundation in North Carolina, which decided that the lack of non- partisan statehouse reporting was harming the state. John Hood, the president of the Foundation, believes that since the commercial sector will not fill the gaps, foundations and other donors will need play a bigger role: "When you get to the state and local level, the collapse of the traditional business models imperils the delivery of sufficient public interest journalism—and we do believe that donor driven journalism can be a very important model."
More: "We do not, by the way, express a preference for individuals to give donations to free nonprofit sites over paying a subscription for a commercial media product. Indeed, the more done by the commercial sector, the better. But labor-intensive, civically-valuable reporting will not flourish unless citizens spend more on it, whether through donations to nonprofits, subscriptions to commercial entities, or a combination of both."
The FCC also rejects another proposal that was part of the FTC's draft: "There is one public-private partnership we think would be a bad idea: some have suggested creating a federally-funded AmeriCorps program for journalists."
The report is to a large degree the work of Steven Waldman, who was co-founder of a religious news Web site called Beliefnet. All told, it runs 475 pages. Only in government (okay, maybe at a foundation or a really big corporation like General Motors) does anyone write a 475-page report essentially recommending that the report-writing institution, i.e., the government, not do much to address a supposed problem. Anyway, it could have been a lot worse.