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Bill Unveiled to Give Local News Outlets More Power to Counter Google, Facebook

U.S. Capitol
John Greim/REX/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — A top House Democrat and Republican introduced legislation on Wednesday designed to give local news publishers a boost in negotiating with much larger tech platforms like Google and Facebook.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would provide a “safe harbor” for digital news outlets and allow them to collectively negotiate terms over their distribution of content by dominant platforms.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the chairman of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, are co-sponsors on the bill.

David Chavern, the president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, which represents print and digital news outlets, said the bipartisan support for the legislation was significant. Last year, when Cicilline introduced a similar bill, it didn’t go anywhere.

“It is becoming much clearer how at risk local news publishing is,” Chavern said, adding that lawmakers have concerns about the impact that the decline in local journalism has on their communities and how they will communicate with the constituents. Another worry is that if a local news publisher goes away, what type of information source will fill that void?

According to the News Media Alliance, Facebook and Google are drawing about 90% of all digital ad revenue and 60% of total U.S. digital advertising.

The bill would give news publishers a 48-month “safe harbor” to coordinate if it relates to news, is non-discriminatory to other news publishers, benefits the entire industry, and is not being used for purposes other than setting terms with distributors.

“The free press is a cornerstone of our democracy. Journalists keep the public informed, root out corruption, and hold the powerful accountable,” Cicilline said in a statement. “This bill will provide a much-needed lifeline to local publishers who have been crushed by Google and Facebook. It’s about time we take a stand on this issue.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts is predicted to drop 9% from 2016 to 2026.

Collins said the legislation will be “opening the door for community newspapers to more fairly negotiate with large tech platforms that are operating in an increasingly anticompetitive space.”

NetChoice, an association of commerce businesses that includes Google and Facebook, signaled their potential opposition.

“The bill empowers big media to circumvent antitrust laws and collude to grow their power,” said Carl Szabo, the organization’s VP and general counsel.

They were joined by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. Its president, David Williams, said companies “should get equal treatment under the law, instead of big media companies enjoying lucrative exemption from antitrust laws.”