Since the financial crisis we have seen business leaders lining up at the trough and pleading for government assistance. Generally the argument goes something like this.
Our industry is vital to the economy and the consumers of the land cannot do without it, even though they have stopped buying our product, obviously through no fault of our own. We therefore need an injection of taxpayer dollars to save us from having to pander to crass commercialism.
There has been considerable speculation over the last year as to the prospect of bailing out some of the more poorly performing newspapers, usually on the grounds that their demise will leave the people in the region they serve without the papers they haven’t been buying.
Rupert Murdoch is not a man who wins a hell of a lot of popularity contests, especially with those who oppose his plans to charge for content, however it is refreshing to see his views on keeping the state out of the industry and why:
In my view, the growing drumbeat for government assistance for newspapers is as alarming as overregulation. One idea gaining in popularity is providing taxpayer funds for journalists. Or giving newspapers "nonprofit" status—in exchange, of course, for papers giving up their right to endorse political candidates. The most damning problem with government "help" is what we saw with the bailout of the U.S. auto industry: Help props up those who are producing things that customers do not want.
The prospect of the U.S. government becoming directly involved in commercial journalism ought to be chilling for anyone who cares about freedom of speech. The Founding Fathers knew that the key to independence was to allow enterprises to prosper and serve as a counterweight to government power. It is precisely because newspapers make profits and do not depend on the government for their livelihood that they have the resources and wherewithal to hold the government accountable.
When the representatives of 13 former British colonies established a new order for the ages, they built it on a sturdy foundation: a free and informed citizenry. They understood that an informed citizenry requires news that is independent from government. That is one reason they put the First Amendment first.
Our modern world is faster moving and far more complex than theirs. But the basic truth remains: To make informed decisions, free men and women require honest and reliable news about events affecting their countries and their lives. Whether the newspaper of the future is delivered with electrons or dead trees is ultimately not that important. What is most important is that the news industry remains free, independent—and competitive.
Generally the use of taxpayer funds to prop up failing businesses comes under my definition of aiding the incompetent to do the unnecessary.