It’s only fitting that independent presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is leading the charge in support of indie journalism, detailing on Monday in a Columbia Journalism Review op-ed, no less, his plan to “protect independent news and a free press by enforcing antitrust laws, empowering journalists to form unions and increasing investment in local public media,” as he put it in a Tuesday tweet.
Sanders opens his op-ed by invoking Walter Cronkite (“Journalism is what we need to make democracy work”), assessing the dire state of “real journalism” and identifying its foremost antagonists: “Wall Street, billionaire businessmen, Silicon Valley and Donald Trump.” It just so happens those bad actors are having adverse effects on our economy as well, meaning the current assault on media is more closely tied to Sanders’ foremost policy concern than one might think. He calls out Facebook and Google for reshaping the digital media landscape to their own ends, decries corporate vultures who have picked local papers’ bones clean for a quick buck, points out the troublesome imbalance between journalists and public relations staffers (a 1:6 ratio, he says), and denounces Trump’s demonization of the media. Things are bad, basically, is his point.
“Today, after decades of consolidation and deregulation, just a small handful of companies control almost everything you watch, read and download,” Sanders writes. “Given that reality, we should not want even more of the free press to be put under the control of a handful of corporations and ‘benevolent’ billionaires who can use their media empires to punish their critics and shield themselves from scrutiny.”
Having comprehensively established the need for action on the issue, the 2020 hopeful gets down to brass tacks (read: policy proposals), detailing anti-corporate consolidation measures, increased media merger transparency and media employee stock-ownership plan requirements, and a new direction for the Federal Communications Commission—one that ensures media deregulation at the federal level does not disproportionately impact already-marginalized Americans, and that limits how many local news sources a single broadcasting corporation can bring under its umbrella. He eyes Attorney General and Federal Trade Commission officials who can help curtail Facebook and Google’s monopoly power, leveraging tech giants’ reach to help fund local media. Perhaps most importantly, Sanders pledges to pass his Workplace Democracy Plan, supporting media staffers in their efforts to unionize, collectively bargain and push back against media owner efforts to take advantage of their platforms to serve their own interests and place themselves above scrutiny.
“Our constitution’s First Amendment explicitly protects the free press because the founders understood how important journalism is to a democracy. More than two centuries after the constitution was signed, we cannot sit by and allow corporations, billionaires, and demagogues to destroy the Fourth Estate, nor can we allow them to replace serious reporting with infotainment and propaganda,” Sanders concludes.
It’s no surprise Sanders, a left-wing outsider known for speaking truth to power, is going to bat for an industry tasked with doing just that.
You can read Sanders’ op-ed in its entirety here.