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Small Publications Face Crippling Postal Hike — Based on Time Warner Recommendation

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Nation magazine publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel speaks out on a new U.S. Post Office rate change that could affect many small and independent publications in this country. Postal rates for smaller periodicals could increase by as much as 30 percent while some of the largest circulation magazines will face hikes of less than 10 percent. According to internal documents, the hike was accepted based on “a rate structure proposed by Time Warner, Inc.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to move now to the issue of small magazines: the new postage rates that are being implemented by the U.S. Post Office, which could affect many small and independent publications in this country. Postal rates for smaller periodicals could increase by as much as 30 percent, while some of the largest circulation magazines will face hikes of less than 10 percent.

The advocacy group Free Press says the rate change was developed with no public involvement or congressional oversight. They’re calling for a congressional hearing on the changes. The Postal Service Board of Governors recently accepted the periodical rate recommendations of the Postal Regulatory Commission. According to a document outlining the board’s decision, the commission recommended “a rate structure proposed by Time Warner, Inc.”

Well, Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation magazine is part of a broad coalition that has sent a letter to the Postal Board of Governors opposing the new postal rate. Can you talk about this issue?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, I mean, what’s at stake, Amy — and you’ve been at the forefront of the media and democracy movement — what’s at stake is the stifling, the future, the survival of an independent media that the founding fathers of this country thought was essential to a vibrant, flourishing democracy.

We are publishers of magazines that don’t make money, that believe in information as a public good. We believe it is vital to the marketplace of ideas, which, you know, you would think this big behemoth Time Warner would be supportive of. But again, in an unprecedented move, again almost in the dark of night, we’re seeing the Postal Board of Governors accepting a rate increase developed by the largest publisher in this country.

And as you said, Amy, this is not a partisan issue. We have assembled a coalition including the National Review, The American Conservative and others across the board — Mother Jones, In These Times, The Progressive — because we believe that if we are to remain a democracy, we have to have flourishing ideas and not one huge publisher conglomerate deciding what this quasi-government agency is going to do. So I think it’s imperative for organized people to take on this organized money. And there are several actions that could be taken.

AMY GOODMAN: But, I mean, the Postal Service Board of Governors, in their own document outlining the board’s decision, say the commission recommended a rate structure proposed by Time Warner, Inc.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes. It is astonishing. And it’s also — I mean, the Postal Service proposal was rejected. What’s needed here, of course, is some investigative reporting on what is going on with an agency that, as John Nichols and Robert McChesney of Free Press have described, is one of the most secretive agencies. It makes the FCC look like a Vermont commune. But it’s imperative that we stop this, because it seems to me that if we allow Time Warner to dictate what the postal rates will be in this country, we are forfeiting the possibility of a true exchange of ideas.

And people can go to stoppostalratehikes.com and call for congressional hearings. We have the possibility of hearings in the Subcommittee on Postal Workforce and also to delay the rate increase and to call for a justification of why these rate increases are in the best interest of the American people.

Again, the Postal Service proposed a more modest increase, which these small publishers, including The Nation, were prepared to grapple with, and then this comes. But what’s going on with Time Warner dictating essentially government policy? Talk about oligarchies. And, you know, if an oligarchy can dictate our postal rate policy, then we don’t have much right to dictate what goes on in other parts of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: We called the Postal Service Board of Governors to invite them on the broadcast; they declined our invitation. But what is the rationale even they are putting forward to increase the rate for the smaller publications and a much smaller increase for the large publications?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, it has to do with efficiencies of scale. But, you know, the postal — essentially, I think Time Warner sees that it can lock into place these rates at this moment. They do have the ability, because they’re so big, to almost bypass the Postal Service. But it’s a false argument, because the efficiencies of scale, the model — the Postal Service isn’t even ready to handle this. So it’s as if the Postal Board of Governors is throwing onto the Postal Service something it’s not prepared to handle. And I think if we are going to go for efficiencies of scale, then we’ve lost a measure of, you know, what our democracy is about. It’s not even a good competitive market proposal, according to those who studied it carefully.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see some magazines going under?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I think — you know, Amy, you understand how the independent media is always at risk of — you know, one step away. I mean, The Nation is in strong shape, but anything like this, of course — what happens is it depletes our possibility to do the reporting, the investigation and the amplification of news and ideas. So I think that some will go under. And also, it prohibits others from even thinking of entering. So you may see — you know, this is the nightmare we’ve talked about, and it is part of — let’s not forget, I think it was in 1993, when those cross-ownership rules were floated. Millions of people sent emails to the FCC saying, “No! We want our media. We want to take back our media.” And it’s about localism. It’s about vibrant ideas. And I think this is a case which many people don’t understand, but if they go to stoppostalratehikes.com, you will learn a lot about the underbelly of a system that needs to be exposed.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Katrina vanden Heuvel, I want to thank you very much for being with us, publisher of The Nation magazine.

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