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Laws That Could Save Journalism

-- Eliminate ownership restrictions. Media insolvency is a greater threat today than media concentration. Congress should abolish caps on ownership of broadcast stations and bars on newspaper and television ownership in the same market. These outdated rules belong to an era when the Web was a home for spiders.

-- Use tax policy to promote the press. Washington state is taking a lead in the current crisis with legislation signed into law this week to slash business taxes on the press by 40 percent. Congress could provide incentives for placing ads with content creators (not with Craigslist) and allowances for immediate write-offs (rather than capitalization) for all expenses related to news production.

-- Grant an antitrust exemption. Congress first came to journalism's defense with antitrust relief in 1970, when it permitted endangered newspapers to combine their business operations without fear of antitrust suits if their newsrooms remained independent.

As noted in the Kerry hearing, publishers need collective pricing policies for their Web sites to finally break out of the expectation of free content that is afflicting the industry. Antitrust immunity is necessary because most individual news sites can't go it alone by walling off their content for fees -- readers will simply jump to sites that are still free.

A temporary antitrust shelter would serve the public interest by enabling the industry to take steps today to preserve for tomorrow the journalism that benefits us all.

Bruce W. Sanford and Bruce D. Brown are partners in the Washington office of Baker Hostetler. They specialize in media and First Amendment law.


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