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FTC wants to help journalists, enforce ethics

The Federal Trade Commission is making a couple of moves journalists should consider:

1. The FTC on Monday approved new guidelines that will require bloggers who review products to disclose any connection with advertisers, including the receipt of free products and whether or not they were paid in any way by advertisers.

In other words, we now have a government agency that will become a referee when it comes to journalism ethics. The FTC is not applying the same rules to print journalists who review products, perhaps out of concern of a First Amendment lawsuit.

“The FTC has no authority to regulate speech unless it’s commercial speech, so, in order to assert jurisdiction over bloggers it doesn’t like, it simply redefines their activities as commercial speech,” writes Jeff Bercovici of Daily Finance.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press questions whether the FTC will be able to distinguish endorsements from journalism.

2. The FTC plans to ask journalists whether they want any money from the government to help them get out the news. The FTC is holding workshops on Dec. 1 and 2, and page 6 of the document describing the event lists a number of proposals the federal government has on the table to help the news industry. Ideas include tax breaks, bending copyright rules, granting antitrust immunity to publishers and broadcasters, and just giving money to news organizations.

Here’s the text of bullet point No. 5:

A lot of what the media covers is government. Would an editorial about the government be a product review? If so, and the journalist writing that editorial received government funding, would that editorial be prohibited under the new FTC guidelines?

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