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:

    Should the federal government provide additional funding for news organizations? Why or why not? If yes, should only current recipients of federal funding receive increased funding? What methods have other countries used to provide government funding for news, while retaining journalistic integrity? What would be the cost and potential consequences of increased federal funding for the news? What strategic behavior or unlimited consequences might increased federal funding engender?

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?

Bay Area Media News


  1. The government should consider new tax rules allowing more media outlets to become non profit or low profit organizations that can recieve donations or grants for types of coverage.

    Legislation should also be passed to strengthen copywrite protections to prevent services that are nothing more than compilers of other people's news (i.e. Drudge, HuffPost) forcing news organizations to do their own reporting.

    As for disclosure laws (given a product to review) it should be possible to require any news service to disclose conflicts of interest, regardless of the media involved.

  2. What's wrong with government underwriting of newspapers? In broadcasting, the government doesn't tell NPR or PBS what news to cover. Bill Lehrer seems to be very independent and not at all under the thumb of the White House or Congress. Government funding will allow journalism to break free of the influences of advertisers, who do have an affect on what is covered (and not covered) by for-profit journalists.

  3. It won't be too long until the government takes over the news business as it has other industries. It's already starting on the internet. Just a matter of time.

  4. There are zillions of bloggers who write about wine. A small percentage is actually capable of tasting, evaluating and writing.
    Some professional journalists have blogs, in addition to writing for newspapers or magazines.

    The FTC edict is curious—they are planning to hold bloggers to a "higher" ethical standard they than are real bona fide journalists?

    If a journalist posts a review of a wine on his or her blog, they are obliged to reveal if the winery supplied the sample bottle. But if they print the same review in the magazine or newspaper, they do not have to note whether or not they were "given" the bottle???

    ((One curiosity of the wine biz that's different from the movie industry or many other 'products' is that some wineries actually produce a special "batch" for reviewers and then sell something else to (unsuspecting) consumers. Of course, this is not spoken about very much. A movie, on the other hand, is the same, whether or not the critic has had to buy a ticket. Wine writers, like many other journalists, tend to not be paid much, so going out and buying wines to critique is an expense few publications are willing to fund.))

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