Imagine a new role for Treasury Secretary and tax cheat Timothy Geithner: editor-in-chief of your local newspaper.
Editor’s Note: This column is written by a guest poster and former newspaper writer Janet Lussier. The post title is mine … the content is hers. Welcome Janet.
Imagine a new role for Treasury Secretary and tax cheat Timothy Geithner: editor-in-chief of your local newspaper. That may sound far-fetched, but if Congress passes the proposed Newspaper Revitalization Act, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could have an official say in the content of your printed news.
The plan, reviewed last week by a U.S. Senate subcommittee, is a response to the dramatic decline of the country’s newspaper industry, which has brought layoffs, buy-outs and caused numerous companies to fold or file for bankruptcy in recent months.
But what some law makers consider a possible cure for what ails the newspaper business clashes with the free press clause of the First Amendment. In a time when much of the main stream media has all but abandoned its role of government watchdog, this measure threatens to only further compromise the credibility of the press.
The proposed law would subsidize failing newspapers by allowing them the choice to operate as 501(c)3 non-profit organizations. This is the same tax exempt status currently used by churches, hospitals, educational institutions and public broadcasting. It would also make donations to newspapers tax deductible.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) told the subcommittee that exempting a newspaper’s advertising and subscription revenue from taxes would not constitute government control of the media.
Yet the plan prohibits tax-exempt newspapers from publishing political endorsements. That’s not government control?
The bill also requires a newspaper to qualify as “‘necessary or valuable in achieving an educational purpose” to receive the exemption.
And just who would have the power to monitor the editorial pages of these publications and to decide what’s “necessary,” “valuable” or “educational?” An attorney for Florida’s St. Petersburg Times says it would be the same federal department who checks your tax return.
L. Brent Bozell III, founder and president of the Media Research Center, posted this with U.S. News and World Report:
The paper’s legal counsel, George Rahdert, says adding a tax exemption creates a political problem. “I think it really puts the whole role of censor or critic with the IRS. So the IRS would be able to say, ‘This isn’t fair or critical reporting.’”
Bozell’s piece discusses other reasons why this legislation is a bad idea. He also criticizes the industry’s hesitancy to throw out the old business model and embrace new technology.
As a former print journalist, I would mourn the loss of the traditional newspaper, but I think this proposal is a bad idea, too.
Our country has a long and proud history of a free and independent press. I would rather see American newspapers die of natural causes than survive accepting tax breaks and censorship from the federal government.