To regain democratic control of our government, we must take drastic measures to regain control of our news media as well. It is not enough to have a free press in a democracy. We must have a free and equitable press. We already have a partisan press, however our partisan press has monopolized the airwaves and other communication networks to impose the perception that they speak the Truth rather than one partisan truth among many. So to create the conditions for a genuinely free and equitable press, I will sponsor a new amendment to the US Constitution where a new national Tribune branch of government is established to produce news, analysis, rhetoric, and art and in so doing, advance the political views of its constituents. Amendments have been ratified rapidly in the past – moving from introduction to ratification by the states in only a few months. The following proposed draft language.

  1. A Tribunal branch shall be granted special Powers of governmental oversight on behalf of the electorate and shall be comprised of many independent Tribunes, and each independent Tribune shall be responsible to produce and deliver news, analysis, commentary and other editorial content as each sees fit, in any media, and related to the governance for any jurisdiction within the United States and related to its political activities, broadly construed and to otherwise provide elector oversight regarding legislators, justices, and any officials throughout the United States.
  2. Any person eligible to vote in United States federal elections, or any assembly of such voters, meets the qualification to serve as a designated Tribune, without prejudice with regard to religious, scientific, political or other affiliation and regardless of the geographic location where the person or persons reside.
  3. The Tribune elections will occur every second year, along with the election of the members of the House of Representatives, except that Tribunes shall be elected through nationwide proportional voting where each eligible elector is granted ten votes to divide among zero to ten different Tribune candidates.
  4. Congress may appropriate funding for the Tribunes at their own discretion so long as the appropriation of funds for all voter designated Tribunes is at least the maximum of either: 1) two-tenths of 1% of the total average annual outlays for all other Federal spending for the past five years or 2) five-hundredths of 1% of the United States’ average annual Gross Domestic Product for the five years prior to the budget appropriation; however no change in Tribune funding may take effect until after the second successive term of Tribunes is seated, or the very next seating if the midpoint of the present term has yet not been reached at the time of authorization.
  5. Congress may appropriate access to communication networks, feeds, channels and other constrained and contentious resources to the extent Congress determines so long as the Tribunes in total enjoy access to at least 1% of any such constrained and contentious networks, and Congress shall determine the rate term of access to such communication resources [e.g., bi-annual, annual, monthly, weekly].
  6. The total Tribune appropriation – funds, contentious networks, and other resources – shall be divided among the designated Tribunes in proportion to the votes each Tribune receives nationally as a proportion of the total votes cast for all voter designated Tribunes in the prior Tribune election, however, Congress may  additionally appropriate funding and resources above the minimum required allocations and alternatively specify an even division among all Tribunes independent of their proportional votes for such additional appropriations.
  7. Tribunes shall be prohibited from commercial sales activity as well as obtaining any supplementary sources of revenue, though any Tribune may accept any amount of volunteer labor and any skilled volunteer labor from its constituents. In kind contributions shall also be prohibited except for specific exceptions which Congress may see fit to allow.
  8. Any Tribune candidate receiving at least one one-houndredth of 1% of the votes cast nationally for all Tribunes in the election shall be considered a voter designated Tribune; though Congress may set a maximum number of Tribunes so long as that maximum is not less than ten Tribunes. All voter designated Tribunes shall begin their term of service on the 4th of January following their election. No Tribune may be removed from office, impeached, or recalled and even if detained or incarcerated for misdemeanor or felony crimes, nothing shall unduly limit the exercise of Tribune powers, nor shall anything unnecessarily limit their ability to fulfill their duties and responsibilities.
  9. The voter designated Tribunes shall enjoy autonomy from other branches of government and shall enjoy free exercise of conscience, speech, and the press; the right peaceably to assemble; the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances; and enjoy an immunity from any retaliatory prosecution for activities directed at fulfilling their duties and obligations.
  10. The Congress shall also have power to establish laws beyond budget appropriations whenever necessary to support the Tribunes, but must not interfere with the independent  powers and responsibilities of the Tribunes.

Discussion

We have become accustomed to large consolidated media outlets telling us they are fair and balanced or objective, but these are merely advertising slogans since every editor, every journalist, every headline writer has a distinct perspective. The Tribune branch embraces those distinct perspectives and allow them to confront one another on a more level field. The idea is that we cannot eliminate bias from everywhere or even anywhere, but that the interaction and confrontation of many tribunes will foster important political debates and provide diverse perspectives on policy, political perspectives, and news events. From this diverse interaction and debate we will each of us gain a better understanding of the policy issues we confront.

The Tribune branch is meant to democratize the content creation process which is now dominated by narrow interests: both governmental and private. So the Tribune branch would replace and democratize many of the content creation functions and funding within the Executive branch such as the NEA, NEH, GAO, BLS, BEA, and many other Executive branch agencies which not only collect data, but also produce analysis of data from an official and unified executive branch perspective. The Tribune branch would also provide an independent investigative apparatus to weed out public malfeasance and corruption since the tribunes would all enjoy independence from one another and from the other branches of government. A Tribune might even bring civil suits against government officials when warranted. This amendment does nothing to weaken the first amendment but, on the contrary, provides a guaranteed funding source for a more democratized freedom of the press. Though it adds a democratized funding source for independent media, it does not enjoin private independent news media, nor stop Congress from funding its own or Executive and Judicial branch communications content creators (such as the Congressional Budget Office, General Accountability Office, Office of Budget and Management, or the Federal Judicial Center).

In terms of private content creators, the Tribune branch of government would provide a comprehensive mechanism for independent, journalism, and investigation. While the press has been referred to as the fourth estate, the consolidation and conglomeration of media has rendered this pivotal component of democracy utterly useless. The Tribunes will once again restore this indispensable function to our democracy.

Potential Activities of a Tribune

  • Hiring staff to report news in print, online, on camera and through audio streaming.
  • Hiring staff or contracting with independent correspondents to conduct journalist investigations into executive branch misconduct on the federal, state, county or municipal levels.
  • Joining with other tribunes to create a shared news service bureau.
  • Making grants for survey research other academic research vital or relevant to a tribune’s constituents.
  • Conducting or contracting for political opinion polling.
  • Bringing class-action or other lawsuits against public officials in all levels of government who violate the public’s trust.
  • Sponsoring an art exhibit or making grants to artists.
  • Producing a dramatic or documentary television program or film.
  • These are merely some examples. The possibilities are only limited by the imagination of the tribune’s themselves and constrained by the desire to serve their constituencies and win reelection. As with other elective office, there is a danger that tribune’s will pander to the electorate to garner greater funding. However there will remain substantial funding for minority viewpoints and guaranteed airtime for such viewpoints over our constrained broadcasting networks.

Minority Voice Tribune Example

While the number of tribunes might be small or large depending on many circumstances, it is possible for a minority dissenting voice to gain sufficient support to qualify and be seated as an elected tribune. Based on the proposed amendment, a tribune candidate which garnered votes from just 14,000 voters nationwide (who cast all 10 votes for the minority tribune) would qualify as a tribune and receive approximately $600,000 in funding each year for the next two years and enjoy 15 minutes of airtime each week to present its critical content1. Such a tribune might leverage those funds and broadcast access through volunteers and some in-kind contributions to develop valuable and critical analysis on government at all levels.

Now such a tribune might produce news analysis just like the nightly news. Or it might produce political punditry like any cable news network. A tribune might engage in investigative journalism or it might file a class-action suit on behalf of constituent voters in a particular district. Any tribune might conduct election polling, or methodologically rigorous survey research. One or more tribunes might cooperate to sponsor candidate debates or other political debates. A tribune could employ salaried journalists, or hire independent contractors. It could make grants to video artists or even support traditional artists. A group of tribunes might work together to create a joint news service bureau. A tribune might produce a sitcom lampooning contemporary political issues, or it might fund an art exhibit with only a esoteric relation to political criticism. The point is that the tribunes allow voters to decide how critical voices are funded independent of voters’ income, wealth, demographics, and shopping patterns. Other private corporate content producers would still exist alongside the tribunes, but the diversity of voices would be profoundly expanded through democratic proportional voting.

Concerns

  1. Some suggest that the Tribune branch of government constitutes government run media and therefore stifles free speech. However, this overlooks the fact that the tribunes will enjoy complete independence from the other branches of government. The tribunes are elected every two years and their primary responsibility is in content creation and dissemination. There also is no restraint on other for-profit corporate media, however, the tribunes provide a method of funding journalism independent of market forces. Both tribune media and private for-profit media will therefore exist side-by-side. The only threat to for-profit media arises from the criticisms and critical analysis which the tribunes might also direct at the corporate for-profit media.
  2. Minority voices will still have a hard time being heard because funds and constrained network access are divided according to vote proportion. While the more popular tribunes will certainly enjoy advantages from the greater funding and airtime over constrained networks, minority tribunes will still enjoy benefits that dissident voices only dream of today. Guaranteed airtime on constrained networks and substantial funding to produce and disseminate dissident views is unprecedented.
  3. Potentially too many tribunes to fit on a nationwide ballot. In theory, there is no less a problem for a Presidential race than for a Tribune race since we do not arbitrarily limit the number of Presidential candidates. While as many as 10,000 tribunes might be elected if they all received an equal number of votes, this is unlikely to happen. Many more tribunes might run for office, but this too would be unlikely. If we actually enjoy such enthusiasm from the people for the Tribune branch it will be a welcomed enthusiasm. Electronic voting can easily accommodate such numbers, and even without electronic voting we can accommodate tribunes through a process similar to write-ins where a voter enters an identifying number for a tribune and then the number of votes cast for that tribune up to ten separate tribunes, if the voter chooses to divide all ten votes among ten different tribunes. This is certainly a different kind of voting than we have accommodated in the past, but it is not an insurmountable task.

Notes

  1. ^Based on the proposed parameters within the amendment and the additional assumption that 100 tribunes are elected and a Congress has enacted a Tribune Act has grants the Tribune branch a base of 1,200 base feed-minutes per week to be divided equally among the elected tribunes (therefore 12 minutes of airtime per week each) and grants 30,000 feed-minutes per week to be divided among the tribunes in proportion to their proportional votes received in the prior Tribune election.