The new business of democracy: Low-profit limited liability as media reform

0 Posted by - April 18, 2009 - Blog, Policy

theartofmoneygetting1As the economic crisis widens and swallows ever more of the world’s economy, of the first to squeal (along with the car-makers) are corporate media.  Newspapers, television stations, even huge media networks like CanWest Global have been reeling under the pressure of a shrinking economy.  It seems we have a media crisis on our hands.

Putting aside, for the moment, the many ways that democratic and public interests have been betrayed by money hungry, and policy-myopic broadcasters and newspapers, what are the prospects for democracy without robust media?

“Whenever the people are well-informed,” said Thomas Jefferson, “they can be trusted with their own government.”

Without reliable sources of quality and diverse information, the foundation of a system that rests authority in its citizenry remains, well, in the dark.  An ignorant authority is probably problematic.  At least it’s worth seriously considering, as is how to respond – not to the squeals of rats as the ship sinks, but rather to the very real need to assess how to ensure that independent and effective media organizations exist long into the future.

Enter the low profit limited liability company, or L3C’s as they are known, a company incorporated to make money, but not too much money, and whose incorporating charter includes – wonder of wonders – fiduciary obligations other than maximizing profit.  The L3C is in a sense a way of organizing media in a way that recognizes that there is a public trust at work in the activities of the media, a responsibility that transcends the market, but which can co-exist alongside commercial necessities.  After all, there remains a need for media organizations to be sufficiently capitalized through non-public sources such that we can still call them independent.  (This is not to slight publicly funded media, but to acknowledge that public and private media are both essential to a healthy media system.)

L3C’s – which don’t currently exist in Canada – are busily transforming private markets in other jurisdictions.  There are 3,000 or so L3C’s in the UK, mostly providing healthcare, arts and sports-related services.  And in the US, Vermont has granted L3C’s legal recognition, with similar legislation being considered in Georgia, Michigan, Montana and North Carolina.

Time for new-think to get us out of the media mess we find ourselves in.

Thanks to the Tyee for bringing the story forward.  Check out Tom Barrett’s excellent article on the subject.

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