“How Campaign Finance Laws Made the British Press So Powerful”

That’s the title of an article in The New Republic. England apparently sharply constrains campaign spending (both by candidates and by advocacy groups that are acting independently of the candidates), so unsurprisingly this means dramatically greater power for newspapers. And equally unsurprisingly this is leading the author to call for still more restrictions, this time on newspapers.

To some, this situation may reveal the problem of campaign finance laws: By trying to prevent parties from spending large sums of money and stopping wealthy independent organizations from dominating the campaign, the relative voice of the newspapers is enhanced. But rather than admit that campaign finance laws are futile, one might also conclude that controls on campaign spending should be complemented by attempts to address media power.

The most obvious strategy in this regard is to limit the concentration of the media. Given the unrivalled capacity to engage in unrestrained electoral advocacy that comes with owning a newspaper, it is important that no single person or company be able to dominate the market. Others, by contrast, have called for the regulation of media content. Most of the content regulations being discussed at present are aimed at stopping invasions of privacy and preventing the acquisition of information through hacking and blagging. There have, however, been some calls that newspapers be required to cover political matters with due impartiality, as is required on UK television and radio. But even at the height of anti-Murdoch feeling, such a far-reaching measure seems very unlikely to be pursued….

[W]hile the robust political tradition of the UK press should not be sacrificed, it is time to think about how newspapers can better reflect a wide range of opinions and not give so much power to the proprietor.

Thanks to Paul Sherman (Institute for Justice’s Make No Law blog) for the pointer.

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