Govt will need to help shape U.S. media: Waxman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top Democratic lawmaker predicted on Wednesday that the government will be involved in shaping the future for struggling U.S. media organizations.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, saying quality journalism was essential to U.S. democracy, said eventually government would have to help resolve the problems caused by a failing business model.

Waxman, other U.S. lawmakers and regulators are looking into various options to help a newspaper industry hurt by the shift in advertising revenues to online platforms.

Tweaks to the tax code to allow newspapers to spread losses over a greater number of years, providing a nonprofit structure to allow for public and foundation funding, and changes to antitrust laws are being considered by lawmakers and policymakers.

“Eventually government is going to have to be responsible to help and resolve these issues,” Waxman told a conference hosted by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on the future of journalism.

Free Press, a public interest group, said the search for solutions to the crisis in journalism should be premised on the idea that news-gathering is a public service, not a commodity.

Waxman’s “indication that government has a role to play is both bold and soberly sensible,” said Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott on the sidelines of the FTC conference.

At the Federal Communications Commission, officials are embarking on a quadrennial review of the state of U.S. media. The study, which is mandated by Congress, seeks to determine whether current rules should be changed to allow for a more vibrant media industry serving a diverse audience.

As advertising sales shrink and more people get information and entertainment online, media companies want more freedom to merge and own multiple outlets in particular locations.

Sentiment also is growing that the Internet and other technological advances have rendered media regulation debates obsolete, industry observers say.

The FCC rules have come up for review before, but the stakes are higher now, with broadcasters and publishers like Tribune Co in bankruptcy.

U.S. media ownership rules generally prohibit a company from owning a television broadcaster and a newspaper in the same market but exemptions have been granted over the years.

Waxman was wary of such cross-media ownership structures.

“Even greater consolidation of the business has not helped,” Waxman said.

Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Tim Dobbyn