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Senate Bill To Help Local Outlets Compete With Big Tech Advances, But Still Faces Long Odds.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would give local media outlets a limited antitrust exemption to strengthen their negotiating hand when dealing with big tech companies, was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 14-7 vote Thursday. But the bill’s prospects remain dim with bipartisan criticism and long odds it will even be taken up in the Republican-controlled House.

“I approach this issue as someone who loves newspapers, local TV and local radio,” said JCPA sponsor Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). “We have small towns with news organizations that cover everything from what's happening in the city council to the reports of local high school football and volleyball games. But that kind of reporting is being undermined right now because in a very tough market, these news reporters and the news organizations are not getting the share of the revenue that they should.”

If passed, the JCPA (S. 1094) would create 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. The bill would also require big online platforms to negotiate in good faith with eligible news organizations.

“This bill is about whether we respect created content produced by American news organizations – newspapers, TV and radio,” said Senator John Kennedy (R-LA), the lead Republican sponsor. “This bill will create a mechanism to allow the two sides to sit down and negotiate on fair compensation.”

Too Far? Or Not Far Enough?

JCPA is facing opposition from both parties. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) said that while he recognizes local journalism is suffering, he fears JCPA would make media even more financially dependent on big tech, which in turn, would make them less likely to hold tech companies accountable. “And it will end up favoring large conglomerate publishers over small local publishers, allowing the big players to take revenue away from the smaller players,” Lee said.

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) fears the antitrust exemption would lead to media companies colluding with tech companies. But he said his biggest worry is that it would allow the two to “collude to censor the views of conservatives.” Cotton said that while the sponsors have added provisions prohibiting news discrimination, he is not convinced they go far enough. “Unfortunately, the bill would still allow the media and big tech companies plenty of backdoors to collectively censor conservative views and voices,” Cotton said.

But Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said they need to start somewhere, and giving media companies the option of going to court is good first step. Graham said he is working with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on a proposal to create a regulatory commission that would address some of the hurdles faced by local news outlets.

Among Democrats, Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) thinks the bill does too little to ensure that it is workers, not corporations, that benefit. “This bill, as written, does nothing to guarantee the protection or pay of the journalists and media workers that were claiming to try to protect,” he said. Padilla worries it would also set an “undesirable precedent,” saying hyperlinks to content “are the lifeblood of the internet” and have been a “democratizing force” for access to information. “Users will have to pay publishers every time someone shares an article,” he suggested.

Padilla voted against the bill Thursday, and said he plans to put a hold on the legislation, meaning it will take at least 60 votes to come up for a vote on the Senate floor. Meantime in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has sharpened his criticism of JCPA in recent days. McCarthy said the bill is “dead in the House” in an interview with Breitbart.

NAB Remains Optimistic

Despite JCPA’s uncertain future, the National Association of Broadcasters remains behind the effort. NAB President Curtis LeGeyt applauded the two-to-one bipartisan Committee vote.

“For too long, local news outlets have been at the mercy of Big Tech behemoths that devalue broadcasters' critical community-focused journalism when it is accessed online. This legislation will enable local media to negotiate for the fair market value of our news content,” LeGeyt said.

But Free Press, which has been critical of broadcast news coverage, thinks the bill’s “trickle down approach” will do little to promote local journalism. It says inclusion of broadcast stations is “completely unjustified” since big conglomerates own some radio and TV stations. “Instead, the bill would deliver massive handouts to the already-lucrative conglomerates that prioritize profits over the people they’re supposed to serve,” said VP Matt Wood. Free Press is backing more support for public media.

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