FTC Ruling is a Sad Day for Democracy in America

As we covered earlier, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has decided to crack down on “blogger endorsements” through a new set of rules that requires bloggers to disclose any freebie or financial relationship with the topic being blogged about.

Unlike many in the blogosphere I actually support the idea that such interests should be disclosed (the nanny state implications aside), and think in part that the implementation of the rules is a positive one. Where my blood boils however is in the scope of the rules: specifically that it extends to blogs but not heritage media.

The ruling means that blogs are treated differently to newspapers or magazines, despite the important role new media is taking in picking up the slack as old media slowly dies off. The ruling essentially creates two classes of media: one that is beyond the standard set by the FTC, and one that is bound by it.

What I’ve yet to find is any good argument as to why old and new media should be treated differently. The rise of “payola” in blogging isn’t something that has miraculously emerged overnight, but is instead simply a sign of maturity in the sector in that it is following the lead of old media before it.

Don’t believe me? Buy a magazine on just about any topic. I recently read an American movie magazine while waiting for a Pizza (I don’t buy magazines, so it’s the only time I’d read one), and the paid relationship between advertisers and editorial was so blatant as to be scary. In this magazine there was 8 whole pages of editorial dedicated to positive spin for a movie that had been panned by critics. On three other pages were paid ads for the exact same movie (two for the movie, one for the computer game spinoff.) The same Hollywood movie company had a pile of other ads scattered throughout the magazine as well.

That’s just one example, but it is a common one in many different topic areas. Whether you agree that this should be allowed is academic and an argument I don’t particularly seek to have here, but likewise how is it fair in a democracy that different sets of rules are in play if you publish offline or online?

The conspiracy theorists may well suggest that the FTC ruling is an attempt to give old media an unfair advantage over new media, and while that’s pushing the line as these things go, you can’t help but think that there might be some truth in it.

It is a sad day for democracy in America where the voice of the people is imposed with rules that the voice of those with power and money are not. Change you can believe in has become bite the hand that got you to where you are because you want to curry favor with the big end of town.

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