new nation

In addition, the 1789 Postal Act allowed editors to exchange their issues with each other postage-free. The exchanges, in effect a subsidy of the press, facilitated the reprinting of news from the far reaches of the new nation and contributed to a sense of nationhood.

Congress went further in 1845 with free delivery for weekly newspapers within 30 miles. In an 1879 revision, the government subsidy of newspapers and magazines was standardized—a penny a pound for shipping. The word subsidy was not used, but in fact the government was using its resources to ease the cost of doing business for the press. At a token rate of a penny a pound, the nascent magazine industry boomed. Today postal subsidies for print media are institutionalized in preferred rates. Book and periodical publishing companies enjoy drastically reduced postal rates—but with conditions.

Government subsidies go beyond ink-on-paper media. The quasi-government Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was established to help support public broadcasting, but without direct government influence on editorial content. At one point, the CPB provided 20% of revenue for these public television and radio stations. The rationale has been the same as the first postal subsidies—the media are a public good and public policy should be supportive.

3.5.2 Government Issues 1. Objective: Outline the reasons why the U.S. government limits its media


A government role in media is not without problems, though. Some early postal subsidies were granted only to small weeklies and were part of an urban-rural culture that divided Congress at the time. Periodically, conservatives in Congress and the White House, including many Republicans, continuously attempt to defund PBS and NPR public broadcast networks.

Government Inability to Interfere with Media

Despite these attempts to interfere with media’s role in society, government’s role in media business models has been hands-off historically for several reasons.

Buffers. As an example, the CPB, which channels federal money to noncommercial radio and television station, operates autonomously. The CPB’s funding relationship to government somewhat resembles a model used by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), with the main difference being that the BBC’s funding comes from mandatory license fees collected from every house in the United Kingdom with a television.

Content. Government regulation has been largely a non-issue on content. For many years, for example, publications couldn’t carry more than 70% advertising and still qualify for a postal subsidy. Publishers had little problem with the limit. In broadcasting, the FCC has focused more on technical issues and been rather “hands-off” with regard to content, but not everyone agrees, particularly those who believe the government should not be involved at all in regulating content. With the advent of Internet streaming, control over content is increasingly challenging, thus regulation may soon be a mute point.

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