WASHINGTON — On Thursday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee will again convene to consider the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), “pro-trust” legislation that would waive anti-collusion statutes and let media companies partner in negotiations for payments from online platform companies like Alphabet and Meta.
Antitrust Subcommittee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar attempted to move the bill through committee earlier this month, but it stalled after Sen. Ted Cruz introduced and won a vote on an anti-content-moderation amendment that made the significantly flawed JCPA even worse — so bad, in fact, that Sen. Klobuchar could no longer support her own legislation.
On Wednesday, Sen. Klobuchar released the language of a new amendment designed to preserve the core of Sen. Cruz’s language by barring any agreement on how a platform can distribute content. But in addition to barring only agreements about moderation, the new bill would fully “bar the tech firms from throttling, filtering, suppressing or curating content,” according to lead Republican sponsor Sen. John Kennedy. This new language does nothing to address Free Press Action’s frequently-voiced concerns about the JCPA’s content-moderation problems — let alone the bill’s many other failings.
Working journalists, as well as progressive, labor, consumer, civil-rights and digital-justice advocates, all continue to have serious concerns about how the JCPA would work, whether it would achieve its stated goals, and why it would direct money to large, profitable broadcasters and hedge-fund-run publishers.
Free Press Action Senior Director of Journalism Policy Mike Rispoli said:
“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. Even after another round of scrambling from the bill’s sponsors, the latest version does little to direct support to communities or working journalists. And it still further entrenches the power of some of the world’s largest and most predatory media conglomerates.
“Language that limits payout negotiations to publications with fewer than 1,500 employees makes it seem like big-media firms like Gannett, News Corp. and Sinclair Broadcast Group would not benefit. But the JCPA contains intentional loopholes big enough for these massive companies to slip through. The language is so murky that even co-sponsors on the Judiciary Committee were surprised to learn at the end of their previous meeting on the JCPA that companies like Sinclair will be allowed to form and join cartels if this bill passes.
“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 hedge funds like Alden Global Capital — notorious for buying up local papers, laying off staff and slashing news-production budgets — would be incentivized to collude even when they refuse to collectively bargain with their own workers.
“But the JCPA's problems don’t end there, even with the latest Band-Aid in the form of yet another round of last-minute backroom edits. The bill remains unmoored from economic reality by forbidding any accounting for the value news outlets receive from their content being amplified or distributed via platforms.
“It also still contains so-called nondiscrimination language that would hand benefits to media that spread hate and disinformation. Even if the reported amendments are adopted today, these outlets could still allege that platforms had discriminated against them based on their political viewpoints. In the best possible scenario, the newly proposed language suggests Facebook and Google cannot demand the deplatforming of hate and disinformation as a condition of striking these warped deals. But it still obligates these platforms to pay for objectionable content, even if they decide not to amplify it, and it impacts or even bars their ability to make such moderation choices — unless the lead Republican sponsor of the JCPA is somehow wrong about his own bill’s impact.
“Senator Cruz’s poison-pill amendment, alongside Senator Kennedy’s recent comments about the latest changes, highlight the true intent of many GOP supporters of such bills: to punish or prohibit platforms from removing hateful content and harmful disinformation. The deal struck today makes no significant improvements; the resulting bill still suffers from the same intrinsic problems. Republicans continue to support this bill because they know it will have a devastating impact on content-moderation efforts, no matter how strenuously Chairwoman Klobuchar pretends otherwise.
“The JCPA rewards many of the same media conglomerates that share a good portion of blame for the collapse of local news. To make matters even worse, it contains no guardrails to ensure that negotiated payouts will be used to employ journalists at all. It’s not clear how rewarding giants like News Corp. will stop the decline of local news or create a sustainable news model for the thousands of news deserts across the country where people have little to no access to credible and comprehensive local reporting.
“And that's the central problem of the JCPA: It 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.”