Government-Funded Journalism is More Dangerous Than Corporate-Funded Journalism

The following is part of a conversation I had with a journalist friend (who shall remain unnamed) on the future of the journalism industry, and the idea of government saving the news, a hot-button topic at this years’ Personal Democracy Forum in New York City. Check out CEI’s own @RichardMorrison and Cato’s @Chris_Moody on Twitter right now for live coverage of that event.

This was my response to my friend’s claim that corporate-funded journalism is just as dangerous as government-funded news:

Well yes, corporate ownership of newspapers does mean that newspapers aren’t as independent as they could (and sometimes should) be. But the same argument applies to government funding. The point is that no matter who is putting up the money (private corporations or the government), the danger is always there that journalists won’t be as hard on the people that pay their bills. But they can be honest about revealing their funding, their bias, and the process of newsmaking, and then let the public decide whether to believe them.

However, I think government funding journalism is more dangerous than big corporations funding it for two main reasons:

  1. By definition, government is a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. If a journalist prints something a big corporation funding their operation didn’t want them printing, the corporation can fire the journalist or remove their funding. If a journalist prints something a government funding their operation didn’t want them printing, the government has the power to lock them up and throw away the key, or worse. Because government can exercise force to do things that corporations can’t (start wars, print money, regulate businesses, lock people up, tax citizens, etc.), government should be kept on a shorter leash by journalists that aren’t paid by the government.
  2. Scope. A corporation has a much more limited set of resources than the government. GE and Comcast might own a stake in NBC right now, and even if that did influence NBC’s coverage of GE and Comcast-related stories, GE and Comcast don’t own, say, CNN or ABC or FOX or the Huffington Post. The other news outlets can cover stories that might hurt one subsidiaries’ funding. But government is big enough to cash in (at tremendous taxpayer expense, mind you) and bail out ALL the news outlets if it wanted to. In fact, bailing out all the news outlets would only be fair, because otherwise the government would be accused of picking winners and skewing public perception. But then there would be no journalism independent from that which gets paid for by Uncle Sam…except maybe for blogs, because you know that bloggers and new media startups won’t see a dime of any bailout money.