Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

If You Can't Buy an Ad, Buy a Newspaper

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

If You Can't Buy an Ad, Buy a Newspaper

Article excerpt

"Advocacy Groups Blur Media Lines," thundered a recent Washington Post headline. "Some Push Agendas By Producing Movies, Owning Newspapers," blared the subhead.

To an increasing extent, advocacy groups are establishing new media outlets. As reported in the Post story, the US Chamber of Commerce now runs the Madison County Record in Illinois. The National Rifle Association has its own national radio show, and is considering buying its own radio stations. The National Threat Initiative is bankrolling a made-for-TV movie.

Expect to see a lot more of this, now that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002, a.k.a. McCain-Feingold, is in place. Just as that law spurred the creation of lots of "527 groups," BCRA will accelerate efforts by agenda-driven groups and individuals to get into the media business.

While the examples cited in the Post are not necessarily a direct result of BCRA, the logic of avoiding BCRA's stringent regulations by utilizing the press exemption loophole is nevertheless compelling. The press exemption applies to news media, provided they are not owned or controlled by any candidate, political party, or political committee.

BCRA bans soft money contributions to the national political parties, and restricts the ability of corporations (including non- profit corporations) and labor unions to run ads containing the names and/or likenesses of political candidates close to an election or a primary. Those are on top of a host of other limits, mainly passed under the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) Amendments, on politicians' ability to spend money on their campaigns and donors' ability to contribute.

When one thinks of the institution of freedom of speech, what usually comes to mind is freedom of political speech. But in America of all places, that institution is being chipped away. You are completely free to disseminate information on practically anything, except pornography, profanity, and political speech.

Freedom of speech not only means being able to say anything you want, but also being able to say it to as many people as you want. To reach a mass audience, the best tool at one's disposal is the existing media. …

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