Cicilline, Buck, DeSaulnier, Klobuchar Leading Fight to Save Local News

Mar 10, 2021 Issues: Consumer Protection and Financial Reform

WASHINGTON – House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline (RI-01), House Antitrust Subcommittee Ranking Member Ken Buck (CO-04), Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and Chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) today announced the introduction of the bipartisan Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, legislation that will allow small news outlets to band together to negotiate with large online platforms like Google and Facebook.

“A strong, diverse, free press is critical for any successful democracy. Access to trustworthy local journalism helps inform the public, hold powerful people accountable, and root out corruption,” said Chairman Cicilline, who has introduced the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act in each of the last two Congresses. “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.”

“One of the bedrock values of our country is a free press, but we have seen thousands of news organizations crushed by the monopolistic power of Big Tech,” Rep. Buck said. “This bipartisan bill is an important start to remedying the results of Google, Facebook, and other’s anticompetitive conduct toward local news outlets, conservative media, and other news organizations.”

“Hedge funds continue to purchase newspapers with the intention of turning a profit rather than informing the public, leaving newsrooms to focus on click rates and page views to drive dollars instead of producing quality journalism that informs our communities,” said Congressman DeSaulnier. “As the industry continues its transition to digital distribution, tech companies get rich, but news organizations are barely hanging on. Thank you to Congressman Cicilline for his continued efforts as we work to right this wrong and preserve and protect a free and fair local press.”

“We must enable news organizations to negotiate on a level playing field with the big tech companies if we want to preserve a strong and independent press,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “This bipartisan legislation will improve the quality of reporting and ensure that journalists are able to continue their critical work. Our media outlets need a fighting chance when negotiating for fair treatment by the digital platforms where so many Americans consume their news.”

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act will establish a temporary, 48-month safe harbor that allows small news publishers to negotiate collectively with online platforms to protect Americans’ access to trustworthy sources of news online. Importantly, the safe harbor is narrowly-tailored to ensure that coordination by news publishers is only in the interest of promoting trust and quality journalism.

The bill introduced today only allows coordination by news publishers if it (1) directly relates to the quality, accuracy, attribution or branding, or interoperability of news; (2) benefits the entire industry, rather than just a few publishers, and is non-discriminatory to other news publishers; and (3) is directly related to and reasonably necessary for these negotiations, instead of being used for other purposes.

Nearly 90 percent of Americans now get news while on a smartphone, computer, or tablet, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last year, dwarfing the number of Americans who get news via television, radio, or print media. Facebook and Google now account for the vast majority of online referrals to news sources, with the two companies also enjoying control of a majority of the online advertising market. This digital ad duopoly has directly contributed to layoffs and consolidation in the news industry, particularly for local news.

Last year, Cicilline oversaw a bipartisan investigation into the state of competition in the digital marketplace, and the problems created by the dominance of large firms holding monopoly power, including Google and Facebook. On Friday, the Antitrust Subcommittee will hold a hearing to examine proposals for Congress to help small publishers compete in the digital marketplace.