The Free Press / Public Knowledge Stylebook for Public Debate

by on August 11, 2010 · 7 comments

[I’m always amazed by the misuse of language in debates over media and communications policy. Some regulatory advocates, like Free Press and Public Knowledge, seem to contort the meaning of everyday words in such a grotesque way that they are barely recognizable.  Luckily, via Wikileaks, Mike Wendy and I stumbled upon a secret copy of the “Free Press-Public Knowledge Stylebook for Public Debate” and now have a better idea of what they mean when they utter these terms. We thought we’d share…]


behemoth” – Use this word to refer to any corporation, regardless of actual size, and make them sound more nefarious than the much larger government that will regulate them.

Big Brother” – See “behemoth,” and be careful not to reference Orwell too much lest people actually read “1984” and discover that Big Brother was actually the government, not industry.

Censorship – Refers to efforts by nefarious corporations to control our thoughts and actions since that’s obviously how they make most of their money. Some people say government might be the real threat to freedom of speech, but don’t you believe such silliness!

Competition” – A centrally-planned system used to prop up free-riders who usually don’t have facilities of their own. (See “Open access.”)  Of course, the best forms of competition arise from government ownership.

the Constitution” – An odd document in that, for some reason, it contains a litany of limitations on the power of government to regulate evil corporations that the people wanted to see crushed. (See “the People.”)  However, the addition of the First Amendment partially rectified that by giving us the foundation for industry regulation. (See “First Amendment.”)

“Corporation” – Detestable entities designed to usurp the fundamental freedoms of the people (See “the People.”)  Oftentimes used to quickly shorthand the concept of “evil” in press releases.

“Fifth Amendment” – A misguided amendment not as easily contorted to our ends at the First. (See “First Amendment.”)  Has something to do with property. (See “Property.”) To be ignored whenever possible. Do not mention in court.

First Amendment” – The First Amendment was part of a meddlesome text called “The Constitution,” which apparently limited the powers of government, or something like that.  (See “The Constitution.”)  Anyway, the First Amendment empowers the government to control companies so they can’t censor our every thought. (See “censorship.”)  Some claim the First Amendment should be used to limit government regulation of speech or expression, but it’s unclear why we’d ever need to do that!

Free speech” – The right of the people (see “the People”) to use government regulation to demand that private companies give us whatever we want on whatever terms we want.  Used in sentence: “That media company violated my free speech rights by making me pay for the content I wanted!” Or, “Private companies have no right to take away my free speech rights by owning and controlling private networks!”

Freedom” – The right of the government to control the economy. When used in a sentence: “The FCC should guarantee Internet freedom through extensive regulation of broadband networks and media platforms.”

Investment” – What occurs when government heavily regulates industry and technology.  More regulation guarantees more investment.

“Innovation” – Technological advances that occur only at the “edge” of networks.  It is important that when using this term, the connection to the “network” be minimized in order to belittle its role and minimize underlying speech and property rights, thus allowing the maximum leeway when confiscatory regulations are deemed necessary to benefit the “edge” (which is always).

Level playing field” – The placing of a thumb on the regulatory scales to favor whomever seems the least capitalistic at any given time (preferably municipally-owned utilities). To be used arbitrarily by regulators / policymakers to delimit the range of free enterprise options for successful companies via unique regulatory burdens on market leaders — even when no anti-competitive violations have occurred.

“Marketplace” – An unwieldy, red-light district that cannot be trusted by the consumer and which is always in need of a sheriff to police its dubious benefits. The free marketplace remains the mortal enemy of the State, and should never be allowed to prosper free from a deluge of regulations, proscriptions and penalties to ensure its enslavement to the “public interest.”  (See “Public interest.”)

Net Neutrality” – The first of the Ten Commandments handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai by the Lord.  Guarantees openness (See “openness”) and competition (See “competition”) for the people (See “the people.”)

Openness” – The belief that everyone and everything should be equal and free — or will be made more equal and free — through extensive regulation.

Open Access” – Refers to the right for companies that lack their own facilities — and without any serious chance of making it on their own — to free-ride off of existing infrastructure providers in the name of “competition.” (See “Competition.”)

the People” – Refers to what we want, but under the guise of everyone else, whether they actually want the same things we do or not. [Use frequently and in conjunction with “freedom.”]

Price discrimination” – Everyone knows discrimination is bad.  (Didn’t we have a civil war over that?)  While some economists pretend price discrimination is a crucial component underlying business models for many important goods and services, we know it is just a ruse to screw consumers. Everybody should pay the same price for everything. Period.

Property” – We’ll have to get back to you on this one. We’re not sure what it is.  But in the meantime, avoid any mention of it.  If pressed in court or in the media, instead play up “the public interest.” (See “Public Interest.”)

Public interest” – Whatever five unelected bureaucrats at the FCC think is in our best interest.

Reform – Feigning the lessening of regulatory burdens while simultaneously adding new burdens to the regulated class.

“Regulation” – The preferred and politically plastic proxy to the uncontrollable and anti-consumer free-enterprise system. (See “Marketplace.”)

Regulatory certainty” – Adding layers of red tape to the mountains that already exist to ensure competition and investment thrive. (See “Competition” and “Investment.”)

Rights” – Benefits from the State. The best “rights” are accompanied by an annual appropriation. (When discussing such rights, avoid discussions of costs / taxes / inefficiencies).

“Unintended Consequences” – For law or regulation, there are none, only opportunities to perfect any given means of control.

Voluntary Concessions” – The pound of flesh required from any company that has the audacity to suggest is should have the right to merge with another company. Preferably, this death by bloodletting should occur over as long a period as possible. If there is a “shot clock” on the proceeding, it’d be good to stop it as much as possible.

[Note: Rumor has it that the “FP-PK Stylebook” will soon be made available at college bookstores across America for classroom instruction in cyberlaw and media policy courses. Lawrence Lessig and Tim Wu are penning the preface.  Thanks to a generous grant from The Open Society Institute, the Stylebook will only cost $1 and bulk orders of will be accompanied by a free copy of Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinksky.]

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