Bipartisan Bill Aims to Empower Independent, Local Newspapers to Compete With Big Tech

March 10, 2021 Updated: March 10, 2021

In a bipartisan effort to support and preserve journalism, members of Congress on Wednesday introduced a bill that would allow small news publishers to collectively negotiate with tech giants such as Google and Facebook for their share of digital advertising profits.

The proposed legislation (pdf), formally called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, was introduced by House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and ranking member Ken Buck (R-Colo.). Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Kennedy (R-La.) introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

“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,” Buck said in a statement.

Citing a Pew Research Center survey conducted last year, the lawmakers noted that nearly 90 percent of Americans rely on digital devices to get their news on a day to day basis. Facebook and Google, which account for the vast majority of online referrals to news sources, have formed a “digital ad duopoly” that is pushing traditional news industry, particularly independent and local news outlets, to the edge of extinction.

The lawmakers also expressed concerns that the diminishment of traditional journalism is undermining the Americans’ ability to be informed, since Big Tech companies ultimately decide what their users read, whether the content is clickbait, political commentary, or quality news stories.

If passed as is, the measure would allow any print, broadcast, or digital news organization to collaborate with each other to get better deals from Facebook and Google during a 48-month “safe harbor” when they would not be subject to antitrust laws, as long as their negotiation is directly related to promoting trust and quality journalism.

“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,” Cicilline said in a statement. The House Antitrust Subcommittee, which he chairs, is going to have a hearing about the bargaining power of news organizations this Friday.

The U.S. bill comes weeks after its Australian precursor sparked a fight between Facebook and the Oceanic nation. In response to the Australian government’s new law that requires digital platforms to pay local media outlets and publishers to display their content in news feeds, Facebook blocked users across the region from sharing or viewing news content on the platform.

The ban, which took place just days before Australia started distributing CCP virus vaccines, covered many non-news pages including Australian health and emergency authorities.