Consumer rights

Journalism Preservation and Competition Act is bad news for local journalism and communities • The Greylock Glass

submitted by Free Press Action

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WASHINGTON — In February, the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee will convene a hearing to review the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA). The legislation, based on the version introduced in 2021, would grant broadcasters, publishers and other news producers an “antitrust exemption” to bargain collectively with powerful online platforms like Facebook and Google.

Free Press Action today joined other digital rights, consumer rights and journalism groups in a letter raising serious concerns about the legislation.

The letter, signed by Public Knowledge, Common Cause, Free Press Action, Wikimedia and others, says using antitrust immunity to deal with the local news crisis is not the right way to support a competitive, successful and independent press in the United States. “Allowing a news media cartel by law,” the letter states, “may actually harm local publishers by reinforcing existing power relations between the biggest platforms and the biggest publishers. The news giants with the greatest weight would dominate the negotiations and small media with diverse or dissenting voices would be ignored or even hurt.

The bill’s most vocal supporters are lobbyists working for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., the National Association of Broadcasters, the News Media Alliance and major media conglomerates and hedge funds. Witnesses at today’s Senate hearing include publishers, broadcasters and law professors, but no representatives of public interest or labor groups.

In March 2021, Free Press Action filed written testimony ahead of a similar House of Representatives hearing, 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 non-commercial journalism sector that amplifies the voices of people of color and creates new opportunities never before available to them in broadcast, cable or editing”.

Free Press Action Senior Journalism Policy Director mike rispoli mentioned:

“The push from Congress to support journalists and confront the growing power of Big Tech is right, but the JCPA is the wrong answer. The bill does not address the fundamental problem of a failing commercial market for news production. It fails to meet the needs of thousands of communities across the United States that lack local, responsive sources of news and information — communities that have been let down by the same companies pushing hardest for this legislation.

“Whether it’s Facebook or Fox News, the top priority of the media giants who would most likely collude in these proposed negotiations is to maximize their profits, not to serve the interests and needs of the people. Instead of encouraging collusion, Congress should pursue public policies that invest in noncommercial media 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 making billions and don’t need bailouts, and the misleading and racist content peddled by Fox News and Sinclair Broadcast Group isn’t worth saving. Vulture hedge funds like Alden Global Capital will not use this windfall to help local journalists or support the kinds of reporting that prioritize truth, fairness and accountability.

“Congress should reject any bill that would increase 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 a model for getting funding to communities where they need it most. The consortium invests public funds to fill the gaps left by the commercial media market and meet the information needs of BIPOC, rural and poor communities, which have long been distorted and maligned in local news.

“Additionally, Free Press Action has proposed a tax on the massively profitable online advertising industry 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 journalists back to work and benefit the civic health of our communities.

“Building a more robust and diverse non-commercial media sector is the best cure for journalism’s ills. We can help journalism the most through the kind of innovation that is already beginning to happen in the non-profit and grassroots media sectors, not with bills that seek to breathe new life into the big media companies that have already let us down.