FCC 'Distinguished Scholar' Trashes the First Amendment

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Posted: Apr 01, 2010 10:05 AM
Guest post from the American Civil Rights Union

A "distinguished scholar" at the FCC has written in favor of government payments for and control of aspects of Internet communications. Her purpose is to favor news that the government prefers, and to "filter" and counterbalance news that the government finds to be lacking. She demonstrates thinking that King George III exemplified, and the exact opposite of the thinking of Thomas Jefferson, concerning freedom of the press.

Some of the facts for this article, but none of the legal conclusions, come from an article in CNS News on 31 March, 2010. It is an article quoting Rutgers University law professor Ellen Goodman, who is a distinguished visiting scholar with the FCC's Future of Media Project. In her written comments submitted as part of the FCC's National Broadband Plan, she made the following comments:

There are "documented national deficits in both the communications infrastructure and the narrative content necessary to involve the entire population in democratic decision making." She says, "We have identified three core functions of digital public media..." Those functions of government-paid media are "to create content" that the "markets will not," and "to curate content, serving as both a filter to reduce information overload and a megaphone to give voice to the unheard," and "to connect individuals to information and to each other in service of important public purposes." [# More #]

No one who has even read the First Amendment, much less who has read any of the Supreme Court cases about the First Amendment, should make such comments in a public place. No one who holds such views should be a "distinguished visiting scholar" at the FCC.

King George III, however, would approve of her views. He sought to control the rambunctious press in the American colonies by two methods. The first was to forbid any presses which were not approved by the Royal Governors. However, too many presses had gotten into the colonies already. And it was too easy for experienced printers to have a press built.

His second effort was the Stamp Act. That required all wills and other legal documents, plus all newspapers, to be produced only on paper which bore the Royal seal, and was sold only by the Royal Governors. This method of control failed, and was repealed in a year, due to widespread opposition, riots, and the burning of some Royal warehouses.

The point of both actions by King George, however, was the same as what Professor Goodman seeks today. It was to minimize or overwhelm communications that criticized or opposed the government, and to use the power of the government to sponsor and promote the views and news that the government favors. Then as now, government money was applied to control the press. Mandatory government advertising of legal matters was directed by the Royal Governors only to newspapers which took the King's line, of course.

Although the ACLU purports to support and protect the First Amendment, that organization favors the kind of content controls that Professor Goodman favors in her comments here. Professor Goodman should review Thomas Jefferson's succinct but accurate summary of the genius of the First Amendment.

"If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter." Jefferson understood that all governments tend to corruption, by encroachment of their powers over the citizens. He also understood that a free press, meaning a press free of governmental content control, was the only counterbalance to an overreaching government.

It might be a good idea for the good Professor to step down from her "distinguished scholar" position, and return to the law library at Rutgers where she could study up on the history and function of the First Amendment.