It's times like this when one must bear in mind the cynical version of the golden rule: He who has the gold is the one who makes all the rules. In the private sector, that includes the people who own the newspapers, cable channels and TV stations where news is presented. A government bailout wouldn't be any different.
If journalists become beholden to the government, for money or for anything else, they cease to be free. It becomes much harder to criticize government spending, for example, if you are a beneficiary of it. By the same token, the risk of losing these funds creates a chilling effect on any reporting that is critical of the government, as a whole, or of the politicians within it.
The issue here is not whether a bailout would mean the government actually exerts power or influence over the press, more than it does now, but what the public perception would be. A government bailout of journalism would end free press, because of the implications of that bailout. If I give you money, chances are there are strings attached, and I want something in return. The question everyone would be asking is what? What does the government want in return? Perception is reality. In this case, the perception would be that free press was over, and so it would be.
A government bailout of the journalism sector would not cure the woes of the sector, but would merely work to hinder press freedom. The journalism sector is undergoing a sea of change in the way news is consumed by the public at large. This sea of change is caused by technology, not by a lack of funds flowing into the sector.
Money is a powerful motivator. Bailing out the media or journalists may make them indebted, even subconsciously, and alter their perception of the governments actions. This can skew reports in favor of the government. If money had not been involved, the journalists wouldn't feel this obligation. There is already too much outside influence on mainstream media; we are losing good investigative journalism. An influx of government money to journalists would make this even worse.
The most important role of the free press is to remain independent from government and to provide the people with unbiased reporting on their actions. Government bailouts are inevitably tied to oversight, as government micromanages the financial operations of failing industries. A government bailout of the press would lead to government management of the reported content. While perhaps not a deliberate attempt to prevent reporting, oversight of spending would result in control of the decisions of what to report, and when. The free press must remain autonomous to perform its function.
A government bailout would give the government the upper hand in regulating the press. The press should be free and not subject to such a higher authority. The press is going through an evolution with the changing electronic environment. Once the press adjusts to the changes, it will be able to get back on its feet, rather than depending on the government.
Yes, a government bailout of journalism would destroy the free press because than the government would be telling the papers what to print and what to say. If people don't read the papers than they should go out of business. The government should not be involved in any private businesses.
Citizen journalism has a tendency to be unreliable and misleading. Of course there are plenty of citizen journalists who are ethical in their reporting, source all of their information, and are on par with journalistic professionals. But there are also a lot of citizen journalists who don't bother to double-check their facts, or worse, who intentionally or recklessly promote completely unverified facts. The mechanisms in place for the mainstream media to ensure that information is accurate and news stories are reliable are invaluable. Mainstream journalism will always be necessary to ensure that the news is credible and believable. Citizen journalism is an important piece of the news landscape, but it cannot be the only piece.
If somehow the journalism industry found itself in big enough trouble to warrant a government bailout, it could destroy the freedom of the press, or free press, to a certain extent because journalists might feel indebted to the government and therefore be less critical than they might be otherwise. Additionally, if the government bailed out the journalism industry, the government would essentially be considered its boss, and could select what is appropriate and what is not.
That state of journalism has deteriorated in an age of mass consolidation and irresponsible layoffs. Today, journalists' decision-making is largely driven by page views, not the public interest. Corporate owners have succeeded in convincing journalists that profits are the ticket to saving journalism, and the constant hunt for revenue heavily influences the way journalists do their jobs. But in reality, there are plenty of alternatives to profit-driven journalism. Government support is one of them. Look at the state of corporate-controlled media. Would government subsidies really compromise the free press any more than ruthless corporate cuts already do? The purpose of government subsidies would be to embolden journalism as a pillar of our democracy, not to diminish the Fourth Estate. The key, of course, is to do it purposefully and responsibly.
If you start imposing limits based on content then we've compromised the free press. If we base it on financial need, that is fine. In fact if the government would give the more financially needy sectors of the media subsidies it could help increase media diversity, potentially exposing people to even more views.
Organizations which truly are members of what we refer to as the free press are going to continue writing with journalistic integrity regardless of who finances their business model. I think this is demonstrated by the press elements which are funded by private organizations, yet are willing to write about the failures of the places where their funding comes from. Also, I doubt the government finds the press so important that it must be bailed out.
We already have government supported journalism in our NPR programs and that has not killed the free press. If anything a government bailout of journalism would only guarantee that all sides are heard, not just the news agency with the most money.
The government can and has already controlled what the free press can say through threatening to remove their journalistic licenses. The government has tons of ways to pressure the news reporters into doing what they want, usually threatening their right to broadcast or publish their stories. A bailout will not really change anything about how modern news is reported.
The government would hold no upper hand if they bailed out the press. The press is still going to print what they want to print when they want to print it. Government control would bring us to a point where there would be protests of free press. Whether what the press writes is true or not, it still brings publicity and light to things that may need to be seen, positive or not. I can not see the government gaining any control.
We have the world wide web. The WWW is the new free press. Anyone and everyone who has access to the Internet is the new free press. Free press in no longer about making money off stories about everything; it's about getting the truth out. We all have the right to be informed without having to pay to hear the truth.
A government bailout does not have to have an influence on the freedom of the press. Whether, or not, it does is dependent on everyone involved and the final terms, which are agreed upon. The government would be completely wrong to limit the freedoms of a certain press because they have bailed that certain press out. And, that certain press does not have to agree to such terms.