Sunday, April 03, 2005

Campaign Finance Reform, of the People...

You can often determine the value of a new invention or medium by taking note of who feels threatened by it. We know the governments of Bahrain, China, and Iran feel threatened by bloggers. We know the mayor of the city of Puteaux, France feels threatened by bloggers. And because our (U.S.) Federal government is considering some regulation on blogging through Campaign Finance law, we know our national political class feels threatened by bloggers. Now, Ted Frank of Overlawyered reports that the San Francisco municipal politicians must feel threatened by bloggers as well.

Apparently, it's not just authoritarian regimes and the political class of the West that feel threatened by bloggers. David Reid reports in the BBC that corporate media organizations also feel threatened by bloggers.

Bertrand Pecquerie, of the World Editors Forum, says: "I think we need a barrier, a sort of code of ethics for bloggers.

"There is a political agenda: right-wing bloggers saying that all media are liberal, that they have to attack the New York Times and Washington Post, even if there are differences between the two newspapers." - BBC

Ladies and gentlemen, this is exactly the problem. Setting aside Mr. Pecquerie's concern about so-called right-wing bloggers, his feelings are not based on ideology, but on volume. If I go to the street corner and begin preaching about the evils of the liberal media (a view I do not support) to a handful of passer-bys, I suspect Mr. Pecquerie would have no problem with that. However, if I fire up my printing press (aka and express the same views to a potential audience of millions, Mr. Pecquerie believes I need a "barrier" imposed upon me.

Bertrand Pecquerie also weighed in on the Dan Rather and Eason Jordan episodes, and again, missed the mark. Specifically referring to the Eason Jordan case, Mr. Pecquerie seems to imply that bloggers assaulted freedom of speech.

Bertrand Pecquerie says: "Even if he is wrong he has the right to say that. It was an attack against freedom of speech.

"Very well known journalists were obliged to step down because there was a political campaign against them. My point is that you cannot accept that. You fact-check, OK, but you cannot oblige someone to step down."

Here, Mr. Pecquerie incorrectly analyzes the problem. Dan Rather and Eason Jordan may be journalists, but they were first and foremost employees of for-profit corporations, and those corporations would probably rid themselves of any number of journalists in defense of profits. Defending profits is a time-honored tradition amongst for-profit corporations and many individual freedoms, such as speech and press, are often in conflict with that corporate tradition. Like Jordan and Rather, it was not "voices shrieking in the electronic wilderness" that precipitated the dismissal of Rush Limbaugh from ESPN and the termination of Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect on ABC. In each case, there were advertising dollars potentially at stake and the respective corporations took action. So, if anyone should be able to speak from the ethereal journalistic high-ground, my first choice would sooner be a blogger than it would a corporate journalist.

Totalitarian regimes have the power to make people disappear in the middle of the night, so they can control the influence and appeal of blogging to some degree. Sadly, the political classes and media corporations have no such power, so they are going to have to adjust to the presence and influence of an unrestricted blogosphere; to do otherwise would be a lesson in futility. Any attempt to regulate blogging will only result in avoidance, not compliance. Bloggers will have their blogs hosted in other countries or they'll convert their blogs to online "message boards". In any event, blogs are here to stay and for good reason. They provide choice and empowerment to the individual. They are the material manifestation of the spirit of the first amendment rights afforded to every person.


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