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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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May 1998


No Deregulatory Voices Allowed

Network journalists seem to think it's unnecessary to mention free-market arguments when reporting on regulatory issues.

Take telecommunications reform. Conservatives praised the passage of the telecom bill two years ago as a step toward free-market competition, but warned that it was not problem-free. For instance, the bill did not eliminate many barriers to competition, and it set up massive new subsidies.

On the April 29 World Today, CNN's Charles Molineaux reported on an effort by local phone companies to raise their residential rates. According to Molineaux and the sources he presented, deregulation is the problem.

Molineaux interviewed only pro-regulation sources, such as Consumers Union's Gene Kimmelman, who wants more government control: "We would like to see the regulators crack down, hold prices down to cost." According to Molineaux, only increasing subsidies will stop price increases. Industry representives, he said, "promise a new subsidy will kick in once state and federal universal service funds begin operation."

Missing from Molineaux's report was any free-market perspective. James Gattuso, writing for the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation, argues that until "Congress and regulators take further steps to eliminate barriers to competition and wasteful subsidies, consumers won't enjoy the full benefits of the telecommunications future."

The same pattern of ignoring free-market arguments applies to environmental reporting. On May, the Interior Department reported that the bald eagle had been taken off the endangered species list. This prompted NBC Nightly News to run a story about the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

According to correspondent Robert Hager, "For decades, the Endangered Species Act has been passionately defended by some for saving majestic species, not only eagles, but cranes, wildcats, pelicans, and more. But [it's] maligned by others who say it sometimes goes too far, costs jobs in the timber industry to preserve the habitat of the small spotted owl, [and] a big power project blocked to save a three-inch fish called the snail darter."

The only person Hager interviewed for soundbites was Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, a champion of the ESA.

Had Hager interviewed a free-market critic of the ESA, viewers would have learned that in addition to harming the economy, the ESA puts endangered species in more danger. Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute notes: "By turning wildlife assets into economic liabilities, the ESA encourages landowners to destroy habitat, even to 'shoot, shovel, and shut up.' The ESA harms the very species it is supposed to protect."

There is a free-market side to every regulatory issue, but network news viewers are rarely told of it.

Rich Noyes


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