Congress 2020

Broadcasters, newspaper publishers and digital news organizations would be able to work together to negotiate payments for their content when it’s distributed by Google and Facebook under proposed legislation introduced in Congress on Wednesday.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would permit news organizations to negotiate collectively with the tech giants during a four-year period without running afoul of antitrust regulations.

Touted as a way to “save local news,” the bill was introduced in both chambers of Congress by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. It’s part of a larger effort in Congress to limit the market power of the top tech titans. The bill only allows coordination by news publishers if it directly relates to the quality, accuracy, attribution or branding of news; benefits the entire industry, rather than just a few publishers; and is necessary for the negotiations, instead of being used for other purposes.

As Americans increasingly rely on search engines and social media to access news, the legislation is intended to compensate news outlets for the content they provide that surfaces in search results and social media feeds.

While much of the discussion has revolved around newspaper publishers’ work being exploited by the tech platforms, the bill introduced Wednesday includes broadcasters and any other creator of news.

“This bill will give hardworking local reporters and publishers the helping hand they need right now, so they can continue to do their important work,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) said in a statement. Cicilline, who chairs House Antitrust Subcommittee, is the lead sponsor in the House while Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), head of the Judiciary subcommittee on competition policy, antitrust and consumer rights, is leading the effort in the Senate.

Cicilline introduced the proposal in each of the last two Congresses, but it has failed to gain traction.

“Our media outlets need a fighting chance when negotiating for fair treatment by the digital platforms where so many Americans consume their news,” said Kloubacher, who said the bill would allow negotiations on everything from advertising revenue to access to information on subscribers.

The National Association of Broadcasters gave the proposed bill a thumbs-up. “For too long, a handful of dominant tech platforms have unilaterally set policies impeding media outlets’ ability to reach audiences, attract advertisers and monetize their news content,” NAB President Gordon Smith said in a statement Wednesday evening. “The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would afford news producers the ability to negotiate a fair return for their local journalism that serves America's communities. We look forward to working with stakeholders and members of Congress on passing this legislation into law.”

The bill arrives after Facebook has been in a heated battle with Australia over how much news organizations should be paid when their work appears on the social media platform there. The two sides hammered out an agreement only after Facebook blocked all Australian news content from its platform and the government granted the tech behemoth concessions. Under a law passed by the Australian government in late February, tech behemoths are required to pay publishers for content and are subject to mandatory arbitration if a deal can’t be negotiated.

The House of Representatives Judiciary antitrust panel will host a hearing on the issue on Friday.