Showing posts with label economic freedom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label economic freedom. Show all posts

Friday, May 15, 2020

Legal attacks on lockdown mount; R.I. Governor's time will run out, report warns

Persons entering Rhode Island remain subject to 14-day
quarantine in the present phase 1 of reopening. Photo by
Taber Andrew Bain CC BY 2.0.
A former Rhode Island Supreme Court justice and a libertarian think tank asserted this week that R.I. Governor Gina Raimondo is running out of rope in sustaining her emergency lockdown orders.

Earlier in the pandemic, we law types found ourselves with time on our hands to read up on, and sometimes write about, the legal landscape of emergency powers.  Report 98-505 from the Congressional Research Service (here from the Federation of American Scientists and updated March 23, 2020) and CDC public health emergency guidance (2009, updated 2017) suddenly became popular downloads.  The 50-state compilation of quarantine and isolation laws at the National Conference of State Legislatures was well visited.  Various guides to emergency powers have blossomed since.  Heritage published a "constitutional guide" as early as March.  The Brennan Center updated a 2018 report about three weeks ago.  At Lawfare, Benjamin Della Rocca, Samantha Fry, Masha Simonova, and Jacques Singer-Emery overviewed state authorities the week before last.

Wisconsin Supreme Court chamber (Daderot CC0 1.0)
This week brought news of the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision two days ago, striking down the Wisconsin governor's stay-home order.  Clarity around the scope of the ruling and guidance as to how it should be implemented was woefully lacking from the 4-3 fractured court, and public confidence in the decision was undermined by the participation of a lame duck conservative justice in forming the majority.  Against the backdrop of a state supreme court already badly tarnished by partisan politics, the decision has only aggravated America's White House-fueled ideological in-fighting over coronavirus public policy.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo
Personally, I've been happy with the leadership of Governor Gina Raimondo in responding to the crisis in my home state, Rhode Island.  But to be fair, I work in Massachusetts, and my job has been relatively secure.  There have been peaceful protests against lockdown in Rhode Island, and there is no doubt that the economic closure is devastating the small-business-heavy economy in the nation's smallest state.

On Wednesday, Robert Flanders, Matthew Fabisch, and Richard MacAdams published a legal analysis of Governor Raimondo's emergency orders.  The report came from the free-market think tank, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity.  The authors are all lawyers; Flanders is a former associate justice of the state supreme court and was once a Republican challenger to U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.  Flanders wrote a companion editorial for The Providence Journal.  (HT@ Gene Valicenti.)

The takeaway from the report in the news is that the Governor has overstepped her emergency authority and is ripe for a lawsuit.  That's an understandable but unfair oversimplification.  The report is a solid legal analysis that examines the scope of state executive authority from a range of angles, including the statutory framework and constitutional limitations such as takings.  The popular takeaway derives from just one thread of the analysis, if an important one: The Governor's emergency powers must be limited, and a key dimension of those limits is time.

Rhode Island State House (cmh pictures CC BY-NC 2.0)
The report does not purport to adjudicate the Governor's emergency response as wrong or right.  Rather, the authors opine, when the Governor's authority runs up against the reality that exigencies are, by definition, not perpetual, the General Assembly has a responsibility to step up and lead.  That might mean simply extending the Governor's authority to make the kind of spot decisions that will be required for subsequent phases of reopening.  Or the legislature may override executive-ordered closures and force the reopening of the economy.

Saliently, the legislature should take charge of public policy.  The most cumbersome branch of government in its populous operation, the legislature is to be excused in the throes of emergency.  But after enough time has passed, the most democratically responsive branch of government should be able to gather its wits, get on its feet, and make law.  Decisions such as whether K12 schools will reopen in the fall, for example, not just financial shortfalls, should be the subject of fact-gathering legislative hearings right now.

The inevitable logic of this ideal is subject to reproach on grounds that many of our state legislatures in the United States, Congress besides, have become dysfunctionally non-responsive to increasingly severe social and economic problems. This paralysis has many and complicated causes, including corporate capture and unbridled gerrymandering.

In the functionalist reality of our government of separated powers, if one branch abdicates its mantle, the others will fill the vacuum.  Thus, in the absence of legislative leadership, a governor may be expected to carry on with policy-making, and a state supreme court, especially a politicized one, may be expected to push back.  It's in this sense that the pandemic crisis is exposing yet another grave institutional weakness in the infrastructure of American government.

If a legislature remains paralyzed long enough, the people will become antsy.  Among the ultimate remedies for legislators who would shirk their duties, some are more palatable than others (video: Liberate Minnesota protest, April 17, by Unicorn Riot CC BY-NC 3.0).  Once upon a time in Rhode Island, residents took up arms to compel the legislature to expand enfranchisement through a constitutional convention.

Alas, one problem at a time.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Antitrust regulators need to up their game to meet challenges of media convergence, Argentine researchers write in UNESCO paper

Published by UNESCO, a new policy paper from Argentine researchers Martín Becerra and Guillermo Mastrini warns that antitrust regulation must adapt to the convergence of media, telecommunication, and internet to remain effective and preserve people's rights.

Prof. Mastrini

Becerra is a researcher with the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), an Argentine government agency, and holds academic appointments at the National University of Quilmes (UNQ) and the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).  Mastrini also serves on the UBA faculty.

The researchers reach the counter-intuitive conclusion that the internet's accessibility to new market entrants, and the ease with which new communication technology should facilitate the balkanization of media services, ironically has worked to concentrate property, revenue, and audience globally.  Thus the role of the regulator is more important than ever, while anachronistic regulatory approaches remain siloed in sectors of disparate expertise.

Prof. Becerra
Becerra and Mastrini rather articulate a "relevant market" approach to organize regulatory authority.  At the same time, they eschew a one-size-fits-all approach to the different problems presented by different entities, namely internet "giants," telecommunication conglomerates, and media companies.  Moreover, the researchers stress that values of access to culture, freedom of expression, and pluralism should be baked into the regulatory framework.

The report is La convergencia de medios, telecomunicaciones e internet en la perspectiva de la competencia: Hacia un enfoque multicomprensivo (my translation: The Convergence of Media, Telecommunication, and Internet from the Perspective of Competition: Toward a Multiple-Understanding Approach) and is published by UNESCO as no. 13 in the series, Discussion Notebooks on Communication and Information, ISSN no. 2301-1424 (2019).  The report is in Spanish and includes an executive summary in translation.  HT @ Observacom.


Here is the executive summary:

The converging qualities of information and communication technologies challenge classic regulatory frameworks when regulating audiovisual media activities, on the one hand, and telecommunications, on the other. The digitalization of communications causes a metamorphosis in the definitions of what each sector encompasses and the emergence of actors that provide products and services and develop businesses in convergent markets simultaneously and in increasingly vast geographical areas.

Regulatory approaches that sought to protect freedom of expression in the media, guarantee access to cultural and informational resources and sustain economic competition to avoid distortion of markets today are being reviewed in light of the new reality of progressive integration and of the growing crosscutting elements within the media, telecommunications and Internet ecosystem. In fact, there are limitations that prevent responding effectively and consistently to the problems raised with the consolidation of the digital revolution.

This policy paper provides analytical tools based on comparative law and inquires about antitrust policies and their relationship with the objective of having diverse and pluralistic communication systems that stimulate public debate in democratic societies. Therefore, it has a multi-understanding approach, since one of its objectives is to facilitate the dialogue of areas that until now have had fields of study, normative translations and institutional expressions separated from each other.

After consulting Latin American regulators in the area of defense of competition, specialists in the region in the field and presenting an updated state of the art of the debate about the relevance of economic competition approaches to seek clear answers for the new problems of a convergent environment in communications, the document makes recommendations with the aim of improving the design of public policies both in the field of information and communication services, and in those that serve economic competition, harmonizing fields and disciplines that were not conceived in an articulated way.

In this context, the policy paper is proposed as an input for public policies and a contribution to optimize the understanding of current phenomena with deep repercussions in the culture, information and communication of societies and individuals.

En español:
Las cualidades convergentes de las tecnologías de información y comunicación desafían los encuadres normativos clásicos a la hora de regular las actividades de medios audiovisuales,  por  un  lado,  y  las  de  telecomunicaciones,  por  otro  lado.  La  digitalización de las comunicaciones provoca una metamorfosis en las propias definiciones de lo que cada sector abarcaba y el surgimiento de actores que proveen productos y servicios y desarrollan negocios en los mercados convergentes de modo simultáneo y en ámbitos geográficos cada vez más vastos.

Los enfoques regulatorios que buscaron como objetivos proteger la libertad de expresión en los medios de comunicación, garantizar el acceso a los recursos culturales e informacionales y sostener la competencia económica para evitar la distorsión de los mercados hoy están siendo revisados a la luz de la nueva realidad de la progresiva integración y de los cruces cada vez mayores dentro del ecosistema de medios, telecomunicaciones  e  Internet.  En  efecto,  hay  limitaciones  que  impiden  responder  de manera eficaz y consistente los problemas suscitados con la consolidación de la revolución digital.

El presente policy paper provee herramientas de análisis basadas en el derecho comparado e indaga sobre las políticas antitrust y su relación con el objetivo de contar con sistemas de comunicación diversos y plurales que estimulen el debate público en sociedades democráticas. Por ello es multicomprensivo, dado que uno de sus objetivos es facilitar el diálogo de áreas que hasta el presente han tenido campos de estudio, traducciones normativas y expresiones institucionales separadas entre sí.

Tras consultar a reguladores latinoamericanos del área de defensa de la competencia, a especialistas de la región en la materia y exponer un actualizado estado del arte del debate académico y de divulgación acerca de la pertinencia de los enfoques de competencia económica para satisfacer con respuestas claras los nuevos problemas propios  de  un  entorno  convergente  en  las  comunicaciones,  el  documento  formula  recomendaciones con el objetivo de mejorar el diseño de las políticas públicas tanto en el campo de los servicios de información y comunicación, como en el de las que atienden  a  la  competencia  económica,  armonizando  campos  y  disciplinas  que  no  fueron concebidos de modo articulado.
En este sentido, el policy paper se propone como un insumo de políticas públicas y una contribución para optimizar la comprensión de fenómenos actuales con hondas repercusiones en la cultura, la información y la comunicación de las sociedades y las personas.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Ecuador reexamines repressive comm law, but would keep journalist licensing. Is that so bad?

The struggle between press and government in Ecuador is not new. Protestors
pictured above in 2011 supported a complaint to the Inter-American Human
Rights Commission over press freedom after Rafael Correa, president from
2007 to 2017, brought lawsuits seeking civil and criminal penalties, to the
tune of US$10 million and four years' imprisonment, against journalists
writing about corruption and against the publishing company and directors
of El Universo, a Guayaquil-based daily. More at the Knight Center for
Journalism in the Americas
. Photo by Cancillería Ecuador (CC BY-SA 2.0).

A legislative commission in Ecuador is recommending freedom-friendly reform of the country's repressive 2013 communications law, Observacom reports.  But the commission looks to be holding on to one piece of the law: journalist licensing.  While Western human rights advocates regard journalist licensing as a plain infringement of the freedom of expression, the reality is more complicated. Even in the United States, the idea of journalist licensing has been floated as a possible remedy to our "fake news" problem.

Journalist licensing is just what it sounds like.  Some countries require that professional journalists meet certain educational and vocational training requirements, such as a university degree in journalism and periodic continuing education.  A newspaper might publish op-eds and occasional contributions from unlicensed persons.  But regular, bylined writers must be licensed.  A licensing authority oversees the membership and may sanction malpractice, such as fabricated reporting.

The typical Western reaction to this arrangement—my reaction when I first learned of it as an undergraduate journalist in 1990—is horror.  Quasi-public officials with the power to impose sanctions and the benefit of hindsight second-guess the judgment of reporters and editors over questions such as whether a story is appropriately balanced or even newsworthy?  Policing journalism like that is asking for trouble.  How can the Fourth Estate be a zealous watchdog when the watch-ee bites back?

The U.S. Society of Professional Journalists decided in the 1990s that journalistic ethics must be aspirational and non-definitive, rendering ethics guidelines that are fundamentally incompatible with legalistic rules.  Minimize harm, a sort of Hippocratic oath for journalists, became the overriding principle, espoused by academic and practitioner leaders, such as the Poynter Institute's Bob Steele (no relation).

Empowering an enforcement authority over journalism is bound to have a chilling effect on free expression, and worse, to invite control and abuse of media.  There is no doubt that that has happened; licensing has been weaponized infamously by leaders in countries such as Iran and the Philippines.  Media licensing and enforcement authorities are fairly identified by free expression NGOs, such as Observacom, Freedom House, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, as a sign of authoritarianism and a strike against freedom.

In 1985, upon an inquiry by Costa Rica—then the United States' democratic darling in Central America—the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR)—then presided over by American judge Thomas Burguenthal, now a law professor emeritus—issued an advisory opinion concluding that journalist licensing is incompatible with the freedom of expression in the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. (I wrote about this for my university honors thesis.  Go easy on me; I was 22.)

But step back from the problem for a moment and reconsider.  Journalism is important.  It might in fact be essential to democracy.  "[T]he press" is the only private-sector institution mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.  And especially in today's media-obsessed society, "the press" is powerful, shaping the public agenda in a way that it never has before.  Yet anyone can become a journalist, simply by saying so.  Prophylactic media privileges will protect this person from liability, or accountability, even upon publication of defamatory falsehoods, regardless of whether the person claimed journalistic credentials in good faith or published in the public interest.  To wield this power, or to abuse this power, there is no licensing, and there is no enforcement.

Meanwhile, in many American states, we license cosmetologists, interior designers, and real estate agents, and we sanction persons who would hold themselves out as having those competencies if they do not have licenses.  No disrespect to those occupations, but the republic will not fall upon their negligent practice.

Is there not some rational line to be found between licensing as a tool for authoritarian oppression, and licensing as a tool to bolster education and competence for informed democratic participation?

That question was not on my mind when I went to Costa Rica in 1992 to learn more about the colegio de periodistas, the journalism professional organization.  Rather, properly indoctrinated into the ideology of free speech absolutism, I sought only to understand how and why this anachronistic entity could persist—if as a voluntary organization since the IACtHR opinion—in evident juxtaposition with a famously liberal society.  In fact, I hoped to witness its death throes before it disappeared.

The colegio that I found was not what I expected.  Quite to the contrary, there was nothing remotely authoritarian about it.  And it was thriving.  I interviewed reporters, editors, lawyers, and people on the street, and the vast majority favored the colegio, heartily.  Indeed, its journalistic members were its strongest proponents.  They welcomed me as a fellow journalist and invited me to an evening gala with dinner and a speaker at the colegio's headquarters building in San José.  They celebrated their professional association.  When I asked about the incompatibility of journalist licensing with the freedom of expression, they frowned and shook their heads as if they simply did not understand.

The colegio in fact was more like a labor association than a lawyers' bar.  As an organization, the colegio advocated for better wages and employment terms for members, besides sponsoring professional peer dialog, continuing education, and social events.  Members helped and supported one another, professionally and personally.  They all had paid their dues—literally, and in terms of their university degrees and reporting experience—and they were happy to be part of the in crowd.  Colegio journalists were horrified at the idea of a journalistic free-for-all, the ill-informed masses practicing the reporter's craft at the public's risk, just as I had been horrified at the idea of licensing.  The Colegio de Periodistas de Costa Rica was not a public regulatory office, nor a lawyers' bar; it was more like a union and a lot like an academic fraternity.

An excellent 2010 report by journalism professor Steven Strasser, for the Center for International Media Assistance, a project of the National Endowment for Democracy, took a thorough and uncharacteristically evenhanded look at journalist licensing around the world.  While amply expounding the down side of licensing, Strasser wrote too about the up side.  He wrote about the labor angle that I discovered in Costa Rica, observing that publishers, as employers, might be as motivated by commercial self-interest as by idealism when they advocate for the incompatibility of licensing with human rights.

Strasser also observed that journalist licensing is a deliberate feature of sustainable development strategy.  Rwanda, for example, sought to use licensing as leverage to enhance the educational attainment of journalists, and thus indirectly to strengthen democracy with informed public participation.  "Fake news," after all, was in part responsible for the Rwandan genocide.  In Uganda, sensational and false reporting, perpetuating abhorrent stereotypes, has fueled brutal violence against the LGBTQ community.

That licensing might be an antidote to runaway sensationalism and "fake news" has not escaped notice by American legislators.   A Michigan legislator proposed voluntary journalist registration and a licensing board in a 2010 bill.  Membership, as a sort of service mark, would certify the writer as having a journalism or similar university degree, three years' experience, and "good moral character," Michigan Live reported.

Indiana Rep. Jim Lucas proposed journalist licensing in a 2017 bill, somewhat to mock licenses to carry firearms, according to the Indy Star.  Drawing a parallel between the First and Second Amendments, the Indiana bill would fingerprint journalists and exclude those with "felony or domestic battery convictions" from carrying a mighty pen.  Still, on the professionalism point, Lucas tweeted Trumpesquely, "Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!"

Unlike colegio members in Latin America, journalists in the United States have rallied against any talk of licensing.  (See also this 2017 point-counterpoint in Canada.)  And Ecuador is hardly the poster child for licensing's up side.  After the 2013 communication law went into effect, the Correa administration wasted no time in going after editorial cartoonist Xavier "Bonil" Bonilla at the newspaper El Universo for criticizing heavy-handed search and seizure by police as politically motivated.  The "Superintendent of Information and Communication," an office created by the communication law, "accuse[d] Bonil of perverting the truth and promoting social unrest," reported the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas (source of cartoon, inset, published Dec. 28, 2013).




I doubt that licensing will cure our "fake news" problem.  And I'm not much on licensing in general, more for the burden on economic freedom than the risk to political freedom.  We lawyers demonstrate very well how licensing is an addictive means to economic protectionism, ultimately working at cross-purposes with consumer protection.  Moreover, regarding journalism, licensing would seem to undermine the benefits of (momentarily notwithstanding the problems with) citizen journalism in the internet age.
 
At the same time, I don't think that the licensing of journalists merits a knee-jerk reaction of detestation.  What passes for journalism in America is transforming into something frightening, more akin to the yellow journalism of the 1890s than the Woodward-and-Bernstein reporting of the 1970s.  Was journalism's twentieth-century engagement with professionalism aberrational? a racy flirtation during a midlife crisis for democracy?

Maybe we need more journalists who went to journalism school.

Can somebody please check to see whether we still have any journalism schools?