WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA). The controversial legislation would give broadcasters, publishers and other news producers an antitrust exemption to collectively negotiate with online platform companies like Alphabet and Meta. The bill has faced growing opposition from local news guilds as well as social-justice, media-advocacy and digital-rights groups from across the political spectrum.
Last year, Free Press Action filed written testimony for a hearing in the House of Representatives, explaining that the JCPA is built on a big-media business model that is bad for democracy. Free Press Action urged Congress to instead adopt policies that would “support a robust noncommercial journalism sector that amplifies the voices of people of color and creates new opportunities they were never given in broadcasting, in cable, or in publishing.”
The revised version of the JCPA taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee today, and quietly released to the public a mere two weeks ago in the midst of Congress’ August recess, does nothing to improve on the bill introduced last year. As Free Press Action has repeatedly argued, the use of antitrust immunity to address the local-news crisis isn’t the right way to support a competitive, thriving and independent press in the United States. As before, the legislation would allow a news-media cartel to negotiate jointly with these social-media companies in ways that would entrench existing power relationships between the largest publishers and the largest platforms.
In fact, the long-rumored but only recently unveiled revisions in today’s markup make the original bill far worse. The JCPA now specifically precludes any consideration of the value that broadcasters and big newspapers receive from being present on social-media platforms and search engines — all but mandating that journalistic outlets receive payments divorced from realistic accounting and economics. The bill also prohibits so-called “discrimination” by platforms and joint negotiating groups on the basis of political views espoused by a journalism provider. This prohibition essentially outlaws platforms’ ability to moderate content, take down hate speech or curate information available on their sites in a way that’s consistent with their First Amendment rights.
The most vocal supporters of the bill include lobbyists working for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., the National Association of Broadcasters, the News Media Alliance, and large media conglomerates and hedge funds.
Free Press Action Senior Director of Journalism Policy Mike Rispoli said:
“The impulse in Congress to support journalists and confront the growing power of Big Tech is right, but the JCPA is the wrong answer. In fact, the bill is just a giveaway to big media companies and their armies of lobbyists. News deserts and hardworking journalists wouldn’t benefit from this bill; rather, the JCPA is a bailout for the very same corporations that have laid off journalists and harmed communities with consolidation and dwindling coverage while their C-Suite executives have made millions.
“The JCPA fails to recognize the real crisis in journalism: It’s the smaller outlets with diverse or dissenting voices that are most in need of help, and this legislation largely dismisses their needs and those of the communities they serve. The bill’s alleged focus on smaller outlets is nothing but a head-fake. The proposed size limits still allow all but the very largest media conglomerates to participate in these negotiations. But here’s the catch: Individual publications and giant network-TV stations owned by those conglomerates are permitted to take part in place of their corporate parents.
"The JCPA also ignores the fundamental problem of a failed commercial marketplace for news production. It doesn’t support the kinds of news innovation starting to happen in communities across the United States that had previously lacked local and responsive sources of news and information — communities that have been neglected by the same companies pushing hardest for this legislation.
“The top priority of the media giants that would most likely collude in these proposed negotiations is to maximize their profits, not serve the interests and needs of people. Instead of encouraging collusion, Congress should pursue public policies that ensure funds reach newsroom workers, not just their bosses. We need policies that support vigorous local reporting, invest in noncommercial outlets and better serve communities with the news and information they need to participate in our democracy.
“The deceitful and racist content peddled by the likes of Fox News and Sinclair Broadcast Group isn’t worth subsidizing. Vulture hedge funds like Alden Global Capital won’t use their JCPA windfall to help local journalists or support the kinds of reporting that prioritize truth-telling, equity and accountability. These are the very companies that have been destroying local news, and their actions over many years show they aren’t going to save journalism any more than Google or Facebook will.
“What’s worse, this bill prohibits supposed discrimination against journalism outlets based on the viewpoints they espouse, replicating the same dangerous mistake in other antitrust bills from the same congressional sponsors. As a result, it would be nearly impossible for online platforms to refuse distribution of hateful and violent content.
“The Senate should reject any bill that would pad the profits of big-media companies. If lawmakers genuinely want to support local news, they must prioritize getting funding into communities where it’s needed most, and to fill the gaps left by a commercial media market that too often ignores the information needs of BIPOC, rural and poor communities, who have long been misrepresented by traditional news outlets.
“We need solutions like Free Press Action’s proposed tax on the massively profitable online-advertising sector to create a public fund to support local journalism. Supporting this and other innovative approaches is far more preferable than passing a bill that would prop up the news-media giants that have repeatedly failed us.”