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The JCPA is a giveaway to Big Media

WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the controversial Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA). The legislation moved through this same committee last year, but failed to advance to the Senate floor or receive any consideration in the House after facing strong opposition from civil- and digital-rights groups, small publishers and community advocates. 

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

Free Press Action is also concerned about language in the legislation that, according to the bill’s lead Republican sponsor 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 the table, the bill does just the opposite. It says that, if Google and Meta filter or reduce traffic to objectionable material — including hate speech and disinformation — they could be sued for retaliation by outlets trafficking in conspiracy theories and other extremist content.

When it was introduced in the previous Congress, the JCPA raised serious concerns among working journalists as well as labor, consumer, civil-rights and digital-justice advocates. Chief among these concerns is that the legislation prioritizes payments to large, profitable broadcasters, consolidated media companies and hedge-fund-run publishers that are in no need of help, and which share a large part of the blame for the ongoing crisis in journalism.

Free Press Action has argued that further entrenching the interests of establishment media outlets over the types of innovation happening among local noncommercial-news startups creates more problems for the field than it solves. 

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

“The JCPA fundamentally fails to recognize that any solution to the journalism crisis must prioritize the public interest and local accountability journalism. We need a bill that will support journalists who do that work, and especially those serving diverse communities that large corporate media outlets tend to ignore. 

“As legacy commercial outlets stop serving the public, lay off reporters and promote clickbait content, policymakers are right to look at ways to support quality independent news and information. But the JCPA’s trickle-down approach does very little to channel support for local journalism where it’s needed most. Instead the bill would deliver massive handouts to the already-lucrative conglomerates that prioritize profits over the people they’re supposed to serve, and provide mechanisms for purveyors of hate and disinformation to demand payment and amplification of their content.

“The bill would not 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.

“The JCPA’s inclusion of broadcast stations as beneficiaries of these deals is completely unjustified. It 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 Global Capital — 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.

“During today’s hearing, Senate supporters of the JCPA yet again claimed that the legislation will help save local journalism. They suggested that having something is better than nothing. But the JCPA’s convoluted approach would actually harm journalism and communities, even if it lets politicians claim to be doing something about the crisis. The bill’s proponents 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 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.

“Free Press Action has long advocated for far better ways to fund the production of public-interest news and information. We must support a noncommercial public-interest media system that promotes democracy and civic information. This includes funding public structures to support the production of local and diverse news and information, and the sort of investigative reporting that holds abusive leaders accountable. 

“Our work in New Jersey and California has resulted in state-level solutions that prioritize support for outlets doing this important work. We’re also calling for a federal or state tax on online advertising that would support an endowment for local accountability journalism that would fund journalism efforts in communities that need them the most. 

“Clearly there’s a better way forward than a bill that disproportionately subsidizes the likes of Fox News and Alden Global Capital. Rather than pushing for Big-Media handouts by passing the JCPA, Congress should treat journalism as a public good and adopt policies that allocate public funds to support the kinds of news and information that are the lifeblood of healthy communities and a healthy democracy.” 



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