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submitted by Free Press Action
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WASHINGTON — In February, the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee will convene a hearing to consider the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA). The legislation, based on the version that was introduced in 2021, would give broadcasters, publishers and other news producers an “antitrust exemption” to collectively negotiate with powerful online platforms like Facebook and Google.
Free Press Action today joined with other digital-rights, consumer-rights and journalism-advocacy groups on a letter that raises serious concerns about the legislation.
The letter, signed by Public Knowledge, Common Cause, Free Press Action, Wikimedia and others, states that 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. “Allowing a news media cartel by statute,” the letter says, “may actually hurt local publishers by entrenching existing power relationships between the largest platforms and largest publishers. News giants with the greatest leverage would dominate the negotiations and small outlets with diverse or dissenting voices would be unheard if not hurt.”
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. Witnesses at today’s Senate hearing include publishers, broadcasters and law professors but no representatives of public-interest groups or labor.
In March 2021, Free Press Action filed written testimony in advance of a similar 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.”
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. The bill doesn’t address the fundamental problem of a failed commercial marketplace for news production. It doesn’t address the needs of thousands of communities across the United States that lack local and responsive sources of news and information — communities that have been failed by the same companies pushing hardest for this legislation.
“Whether Facebook or Fox News, 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 invest in noncommercial outlets that put journalists back to work, support vigorous local reporting and better serve communities with the news and information they need to participate in our democracy.
“Media conglomerates are still raking in billions and don’t need a bailout, and the deceptive and racist content peddled by the likes of Fox News and Sinclair Broadcast Group isn’t worth saving. Vulture hedge funds like Alden Global Capital won’t use this windfall to help local journalists or support the kinds of reporting that prioritizes truth-telling, equity and accountability.
“Congress should reject any bill that would pad the profits of big-media companies. Federal lawmakers who want to support local news could look to New Jersey and its Civic Information Consortium as one model for getting funding into communities where it’s needed most. The consortium invests public dollars to fill in gaps left by the commercial media market and support the information needs of BIPOC, rural and poor communities, who have long been misrepresented and maligned in local news.
“In addition, Free Press Action has proposed a tax on the massively profitable online-advertising sector to create a public fund to support local journalism. Such an approach is far preferable to a bill that would simply facilitate the transfer of money from Mark Zuckerberg to Rupert Murdoch. The advertising tax would promote public-interest journalism, put reporters back to work and benefit the civic health of our communities.
“Building a more robust and diverse noncommercial media sector is the best remedy for what ails journalism. We can help journalism most through the sort of innovation already beginning to happen in the nonprofit and local-media sectors, not with bills that seek to jolt new life into the big-media companies that have already failed us.”