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California Considers ‘Journalism Usage Fee’ On Big Tech. Radio Could Get Some Of The Proceeds.

Efforts in Washington to pass a law to give local news outlets, including radio stations, the ability to band together to collectively bargain with Facebook, Google, and other tech giants have so far come up short in Congress. But another attempt is coming right into Silicon Valley’s backyard. California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks is proposing a state-level version of the bill that directs big tech companies to pay publishers a “journalism usage fee” each time they use local news content and sell advertising alongside it. In turn, the proposed California Journalism Preservation Act (AB 886) would require news publishers to invest 70% of the profits from the usage fee in journalism jobs.

“The CJPA provides a lifeline for news outlets – large, small, and ethnic – by directing a portion of the ad dollars back to the print, digital, and broadcast media that bear the entire cost of gathering and reporting local news while Big Tech bears none,” Wicks said. “These dominant digital ad companies are enriching their own platforms with local news content without adequately compensating the originators. It’s time they start paying market value for the journalism they are aggregating at no cost from local media.”

The Oakland Democrat says by driving more digital ad revenue to local outlets and requiring investments in journalism jobs, her bill will also produce a more stable news ecosystem, especially in smaller and ethnic communities.

“Studies have shown that communities without local journalism suffer consequences ranging from declining civic engagement and lower voter turnout to higher taxes and increased public corruption,” Wicks said. “In that sense, legislators from virtually every corner of the state have a vested interest in ensuring that quality local journalism is preserved. AB 886 is an important step in that direction.”

The bill has secured the support of the National Association of Broadcasters, which says it backs the proposal. NAB spokesman Alex Siciliano says the bill recognizes the importance of local media outlets, including broadcasters. “With local newsgathering at the mercy of a handful of behemoth tech platforms acting as digital gatekeepers, radio and television broadcasters support solutions that ensure local journalism can persevere and thrive,” he said.

Other journalism organizations are also supporting the bill, including the News/Media Alliance and the 800-member California News Publishers Association. The trade groups say that Google takes up to 70% of every advertising dollar, leaving news publishers unable to reinvest in providing important investigative journalism and news to their communities.

While what is happening in Sacramento is welcome, News/Media Alliance Executive VP Danielle Coffey thinks it should be part of something bigger in order for “balance” to be restored to the marketplace. “We hope Congress takes note and follows suit by reintroducing legislation at the federal level as well to give news publishers across the U.S. the same ability to be fairly compensated by the dominant tech platforms,” she said.

A federal version of the JCPA, previously reintroduced in the 117th Congress (S. 673 and H.R. 1735), successfully passed out the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2022. The bill nearly passed into law in December, but lawmakers pulled back after Meta threatened to remove news from Facebook in the U.S. if the JCPA passed and several Republicans said they saw the effort as a bailout for liberal media outlets.

The federal version of the bill would have created a limited safe harbor from antitrust laws in order to allow news publishers and broadcast news operations with fewer than 1,500 exclusive full-time employees to form joint negotiation entities to collectively bargain with a covered platform over the terms and conditions of the tech platform’s access to digital news content. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who introduced the bill in March 2021, has said she will continue to push for the JCPA to be passed in Washington.

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