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SACRAMENTO — California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks and State Sen. Tom Umberg have delayed further consideration of the California Journalism Preservation Act (AB 886) until 2024. The lawmakers pushed the legislation back to allow more time to examine the bill, which has run up against strong opposition from civil- and digital-rights groups, small publishers and community advocates.

In a press statement on July 7, Assemblymember Wicks said she agreed to the delay “because getting this policy right is more important than getting it quick.” The CJPA is modeled after bargaining-code rules that have been implemented in Australia and approved in Canada, and which are being proposed in other countries. It creates a mechanism that would allow news outlets to extract payments from Big Tech companies — including search engines that feature content linking to news stories — but with no guarantee that any money would go to supporting high-quality local content and journalists.

Journalism advocacy organizations, including Free Press Action, have urged California residents to call their state lawmakers and oppose the CJPA. The groups have noted that the current approach fails to consider the news and information needs of all Californians. The existing legislation is instead a giveaway to the bill’s most vocal proponents: large corporate media outlets, including those that have stopped investing in local news and are responsible for mass layoffs in local newsrooms.

The California bill is modeled in many respects after the federal Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), which was recently reintroduced in Congress after failing to pass in the previous session. The CJPA differs from the federal legislation in its more explicit creation of a link tax, where payment is based on the number of online impressions driven by URLs featured on social networks and search engines.

Free Press Action has proposed a number of policy alternatives to both the California and federal proposal, including independent public-grantmaking bodies such as the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, and a tax on online ad revenues that would underwrite local-accountability journalism and civic information.

Free Press Action California Campaign Organizer Florín Nájera-Uresti said:

“We applaud the call from Assemblymember Wicks and Senator Umberg for more stakeholder input on the California Journalism Preservation Act. California residents need access to high-quality news and civic information, and it’s vital that public policies to support local news prioritize communities’ needs.

“Link taxes like those created by the shelved CJPA incentivize clickbait and create a more toxic information environment, with little promise that payments to eligible publishers would go toward producing trustworthy independent journalism. Fortunately, there are much better alternatives to consider.

“In New Jersey and elsewhere, Free Press Action has shown that lawmakers can pass innovative legislation that leads to more informed communities, more reporters on the ground, and sustainable, independent and community-rooted local news. The CJPA as presently drafted wouldn’t achieve these goals.

“We appreciate that lawmakers listened to the concerns of local-news advocates and communities that have suffered due to the absence of quality local-news coverage. In this next phase of the legislative process, representatives from these communities and publishers from small, community-specific and nonprofit outlets must be heard and have a greater say. Free Press Action looks forward to working with these advocates and lawmakers to design policies that create more and better local independent news, grow the state’s journalist corps and produce civic information in the public interest.”

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