It looks like the folks at the top of the Federal Trade Commission are distancing themselves from the fairly controversial proposal to save the newspaper industry – if the Wall Street Journal is to be believed. The “working paper on reinventing the media” was released on May 24 and widely criticized by most everyone as ludicrous. The report looked at ways to save the newspaper industry by charging fees to news aggregator sites that source newspapers, and taxes on electronics like iPads, laptops and Kindles. Money collected from these and other methods would then be redistributed to traditional media outlets.
So how is the FTC distancing itself from the plan? From the top down. No doubt after seeing a Rasmussen poll that showed a majority of Americans loathed such a plan, the FTC’s top man has backpedaled as if he had nothing to do with it at all. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Wednesday, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz called the plan to tax devices “a terrible idea.” But tax aside, it seem that the FTCV has not abandoned the idea altogether.
This method is was what lawmakers call a “trial balloon,” where a government agency that does not answer to voters does the dirty work, pushing forward ideas that everyone knows will be controversial.
Leibowitz has an interesting past which may explain his feelings on news aggregators: he’s a former vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America. His views about this part of the bill are public knowledge – late last year at a workshop he noted that online news readers get a “free ride instead of paying the full value – or in fact paying anything – for what they’re consuming.”