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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Everyone loses when news is controlled

Monday, August 21, 2006

Warning: Too many people want to control your news.

Consider these examples:

* The Federal Communications Commission is looking into 77 local television stations' use of video news releases falsely being presented as "news items."

Think of them as ramped-up infomercials. They show personalities describing a product as if a news story was being reported.

Newspapers aren't immune to those efforts. Occasionally we see businesses, usually dealers advertising used car sales, attempting to make display advertisements resemble news stories.

That galls me. Readers should never be misled by their newspaper.

We frequently get e-mails and faxes written from the one-sided point of view of a company, special interest group or industry in hopes we'll run them as an "unbiased" news story.

One side should never be presented as the only side of an issue on a "neutral" news page. Opinions belong only on editorial pages.

The ethics of any group which tries to cross that line should be questioned.

*Reporters asking for large numbers of public records took a shot from Tennessee Assistant Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter at a national legislators' conference in Nashville last week.

Legislators will become wary and "stop doing things in writing...everything gets done orally," she claims.

If actions are above board, there should be no qualms about public scrutiny.

"Some records don't ever need to be made public," Kleinfelter said. "Sometimes they always need to be kept confidential."

She's absolutely wrong. Maybe copying of some records in the most extreme cases should be banned, but reporters should still be allowed visual access.

*Watch "net neutrality" closely. Some feel Internet service providers, specifically telephone companies, may try to block certain sites from customers (and we're talking search engines and mainstream sites, not pornography) unless the owners pay additional fees.

Randolph J. May, a National Law Journal columnist and president of the Free State Foundation, asserts that telephone and cable companies' First Amendment rights (the right to free speech) will be violated by any laws restricting their abilities to limit Internet access to views they disagree with.

"FSF focuses on eliminating unnecessary and counterproductive regulatory mandates, especially those applicable to the communications and other high-tech industries, and on...protecting individual and economic liberty," its Web site states.

Under May's theory, access to major news or opinion sites -- including FSF's -- could legally be cut. That does NOT "protect individual liberty."

Congress should pass a simple law declaring permanent Internet access to all legal, non-porn sites, with no interference or censorship from service providers, as a government-protected public right. And "legal" must be tightly defined so no loopholes can be found allowing service providers to interfere with legitimate content.

Here's where legislators who put what's best for the country ahead of pleasing campaign donors should prove what they're made of.

Part of the issue involves proposed high-speed gaming or movie sites. There's nothing wrong with extra-pay Internet services as long as basic access to the full Internet at decent broadband speed is preserved.

* The Bush administration continues attempts to hide behind a veil of secrecy by invoking the "threat of terrorism" if certain information is released.

I've written on this before, so remember one thing: Terrorists win one round if they force the U.S. government to withhold information from its own citizens.

And WE -- the United States -- should always win.

David Melson is a Times-Gazette copy editor/staff writer. Your responses welcome: dmelson@t-g.com.

David Melson
On the Loose