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WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, reports suggested that lawmakers might tuck the controversial Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) into a must-pass annual defense-spending bill. 

The JCPA’s principal aim is to force Google and Meta to pay news outlets for linking to their content. But the bill uses a trickle-down approach that favors large and profitable commercial media conglomerates at the expense of smaller independent and noncommercial outlets serving local audiences.

Working journalists, progressives and conservatives, as well as labor, consumer, civil-rights and digital-justice advocates have all expressed serious concerns that the JCPA prioritizes payments to large, profitable broadcasters, consolidated media companies and hedge-fund-run publishers that are in no need of help.

Free Press Action has also questioned language in the legislation that, according to the bill’s cosponsor Sen. John Kennedy, would fully “bar the tech firms from throttling, filtering, suppressing or curating content.” While the JCPA’s convoluted language suggests that it’s taking such content-moderation issues off of the table, the bill does just the opposite: It says that, if Google and Meta filter or reduce traffic to objectionable material, they could be sued for discrimination and retaliation by outlets like Fox News and Sinclair Broadcast Group as well as smaller outlets trafficking in conspiracy theories and even more extreme content.

Free Press Action also objects to new language that excludes nonprofit “publications” from participating in payment negotiations, a move that would further entrench the interests of establishment media outlets over the types of innovation happening among hundreds of local noncommercial-news startups. 

Free Press Action Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood said:

“The JCPA's trickle-down approach is a convoluted and messy process at best. It blesses cartels and gives handouts to already-profitable news conglomerates that need help the least while expressly ignoring the value that news outlets derive from being available on social media and search engines. The bill does very little to address the real crisis in local journalism: There’s no language that requires funding to put more reporters on local beats, reverse the spread of news deserts, serve long-neglected communities or support the kinds of noncommercial news innovation that represents some of local journalism’s best prospects.

“In fact, the latest version of the bill explicitly excludes participation by some of the most groundbreaking noncommercial publications in civic journalism, with a language change that departs from the version published just last week. Nonprofit outlets like Chicago’s City Bureau, Detroit’s Outlier Media and New York’s The City are helping to fill the massive reporting gaps created by a dysfunctional commercial sector, but a last-minute backroom change could cut these kinds of publications out of the JCPA’s supposed benefits.

“If the goal is to put journalists back to work on beats and in communities where they’re needed the most, the JCPA falls far short. It does very little to direct support to communities or working journalists. And it entrenches the power of some of the world’s largest and most predatory media conglomerates, whose lobbyists are the loudest voices of support for the JCPA they helped craft. 

“Congressional supporters claim that the JCPA will save local journalism, but they fail to grasp the fundamental shifts in the economics of news production that make the bill inadequate to the task. If preserving sputtering business models and entrenching incumbent enterprises like Fox, Sinclair, Gannett and Alden Global Capital is the goal, the JCPA is for you. But saving local journalism requires much, much more: that we put the news-and-information needs of everyone before the profit incentives of a few media giants.

“The unjustifiable inclusion of broadcast stations ignores the size and fortunes of the many conglomerates that own individual stations, as well as the fact that companies like Sinclair and Fox have long pushed disinformation and bigotry over the public airwaves. Huge newspaper conglomerates like Gannett and predatory hedge funds like Alden — notorious for buying up local papers, laying off staff and slashing news-production budgets — would be incentivized to collude even as they refuse to collectively bargain with their own workers.

“But the JCPA's problems don’t end there. The bill obligates platforms to pay for objectionable content — even if they decide not to amplify it. And it impacts or outright bars platforms’ ability to protect their users from the dangerous spread of hate, disinformation and conspiracy theories. 

“The JCPA fundamentally fails to recognize that any solution to the journalism crisis must prioritize funding for local accountability journalism, primarily by supporting journalists who do that work, and especially those serving diverse communities that are often ignored by large media outlets. Clearly there’s a better way forward. Rather than pushing for passage of the JCPA, Congress should treat journalism as a public good and adopt policies that allocate public funds to support the production of the kinds of news and information that are the lifeblood of healthy communities and a healthy democracy.”

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