Cicilline Introduces Journalism Competition and Preservation Act

Mar 7, 2018

WASHINGTON - U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (RI-01), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee introduced the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act today to incorporate a limited safe harbor into current antitrust laws. The safe harbor established under the bill gives news publishers the ability to collectively negotiate with big tech platforms, including Facebook and Google, on factors that impact public access to trusted sources of news, such as the quality, accuracy, and attribution of news sources.


“Our democracy is strongest when we have a free, open press that informs citizens, holds public officials accountable, and roots out corruption,” said Cicilline. “That’s why I’m introducing the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. This bill empowers local newspapers to negotiate collectively with the biggest technology platforms to ensure consumers have access to the best journalism possible.”


Cicilline’s bill has already received support from several key stakeholders, including: more than 200,000 local and national news publications; the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), the trade association representing editors; the National Newspaper Association (NNA) and Association of Alterative Newsmedia (AAN), the trade associations representing weekly news publications and alternative news media, respectively; and 44 state press associations representing 47 states.


“Our papers need to be able to band together to negotiate with giants like Facebook or Google. This legislation will help to ensure that we are treated fairly,” said Susan Rowell, NNA president, and publisher of The Lancaster (SC) News.


Alfredo Carbajal, ASNE President and editor of the Dallas, TX-based news organization Al Día, stated, “This bill will help level the playing field in the discussions with the large corporations who hold a disproportionate amount of power in the presentation of news and information to the public.” 


“The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would allow us to find workable solutions that benefit all participants involved,” said Molly Willmott, President of AAN and Special Projects Director for Inside Memphis Business.


Facebook and Google make up a duopoly in the marketplace. Nearly 3 out of every 4 Americans get news from platforms controlled by these two corporations. Currently, the duopoly is capturing 83 percent of all digital ad revenue growth and 73 percent of total U.S. digital advertising. 


Professor Frank Pasquale, a leading expert on competition and technology, praised the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act as “a very important step toward leveling the playing field online. If independent media organizations can't collectively bargain for better terms, we should expect media concentration to accelerate as journalists scramble for some bargaining power against massive platforms. This bill is a commonsense way to realize the original intent of America's antitrust laws.”


Barry Lynn, the Executive Director of the Open Markets Institute, said that the antitrust agencies “for years pursued a completely irresponsible policy of letting Google and Facebook  monopolize the market for news media advertising, in part by manipulating how reporters and readers connect. These actions have harmed the rights of citizens to free and unfettered access to news, and have seriously harmed the financial well-being of trustworthy sources of information. At OMI, we have great confidence the agencies will soon realize their error. Meanwhile it is not fair to prevent publishers from bargaining collectively or jointly exploring other ways to distribute their news. At OMI, we will continue to fight for a completely open market for news and information. Until that’s possible, a temporary antitrust immunity is the best way to counter the already extreme and dangerous concentration of power by platform monopolists over the free press in America.”


Cicilline’s bill (click here for a fact sheet) proposes to address this imbalance by providing a safe harbor from antitrust laws so smaller, local papers can band together to negotiate with Facebook and Google. If passed into law, his bill will address the imbalance in the marketplace brought on by the platforms’ dominance and help trusted news publishers protect themselves and their readers. 


The bill provides a 48-month window for newspaper companies to negotiate fair terms that would flow subscription and advertising dollars back to publishers, while protecting and preserving Americans’ right to access quality news. Parameters included in the bill ensure that these negotiations would strictly benefit Americans and news publishers at-large; not just one or a few publishers.


David Chavern, President and CEO of the National Media Alliance, which represents almost 2,000 news organizations, applauded Cicilline’s action today, saying, “We are grateful to Congressman Cicilline for his commitment to ensuring fair competition with the platforms and for his work to preserve quality journalism. Our industry depends on our ability to continue to invest in stories that report the truth and hold our public officials accountable.”