New Book, 'Government Control of News,' Details Contemporary Threat to Free Press

In his new book, "Government Control of News: A Constitutional Challenge", former NBC-TV legal counsel executive Corydon B. Dunham outlines how Americans' right to freedom of speech faces a serious potential threat from the federal government.

"People voiced concern about whether SOPA and PIPA (the House and Senate piracy bills) would drastically limit free speech on the Internet. But the resurrection of television's old Fairness Doctrine, which authorized government editing of television news, is a far more ominous threat," he says.

His book explores how the Federal Communications Commission has drafted a new policy for government control of news. And even though a special study last year recommended that such a policy of censorship be scrapped, it's still pending, apparently with the support of the Obama Administration and little public awareness.

The FCC's proposed new Localism, Balance and Diversity Doctrine mirrors many aspects of the long-dead Fairness Doctrine, he says. That was revoked in 1987 after the FCC and the courts found that it suppressed news, chilled speech, imposed censorship, prevented criticism of the administration then in office and created an atmosphere of "timidity and fear."

The new localism doctrine is very similar, Dunham says. It would force news broadcast by television stations to meet government criteria for 'localism' in production and news coverage -- as well as satisfy government-enforced views on acceptable news.

"To have a government agency edit the news and investigate it may sound good to some, but the FCC and courts have found that, in practice, such oversight of the press deters news reports, denies the public information needed for self-government and is against the public interest," he says.

"The administration should not support such a rule and should stop it."

Corydon B. Dunham
Corydon B. Dunham is a Harvard Law School graduate. His "Government Control of News" study was expanded and developed for the Corydon B. Dunham Fellowship for the First Amendment at Harvard Law School and the Dunham Open Forum for First Amendment Values at Bowdoin College. Dunham was an executive at NBC from 1965 to 1990. He oversaw legal and government matters and broadcast standards. He was on the board of directors of the National Television Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Corporate Counsel Association, and American Arbitration Association among other posts.

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