Bipartisan Journalism Anti-Trust Bill Advances in Congress, Sparks Debate on Content Moderation

Bipartisan Journalism Anti-Trust Bill Advances in Congress, Sparks Debate on Content Moderation
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington on March 27, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Caden Pearson

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to advance a bill that empowers news outlets to collectively negotiate fair compensation with Big Tech platforms in exchange for distributing their content.

The bipartisan Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) garnered support from senators across party lines in a 13–7 vote. In the last Congress, the bill passed the panel by a strong bipartisan vote but was not brought to the floor for a vote.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that despite the “vital role” of local newspapers in keeping the public informed and keeping those in power accountable, local news has declined in the last 20 years.

He attributed this to “large online gatekeepers” like Google and Facebook siphoning ad revenue that news organizations have traditionally relied upon.

“The JCPA … will help reverse this trend by allowing news publishers … to band together and enter into structured negotiations with the biggest online platforms over access to news content,” Durbin said.

The bill would allow news outlets to collectively negotiate with online platforms with at least 50 million U.S.-based users or subscribers. The platforms would be required to negotiate in good faith with the eligible news organizations. Eligible non-broadcaster news publishers could demand final-offer arbitration if a deal isn’t reached within six months.

Australia implemented a similar law in 2021. It has since been proposed in several countries.

Content moderation emerged as a central concern for opponents of the bill from both sides of the aisle.

Critics from the Republican Party expressed apprehensions about potential content censorship and alleged anti-conservative bias resulting from the proposed legislation.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) voiced concerns that the bill could grant media and Big Tech companies the ability to censor conservative views. Despite the bill’s provisions to prevent content discrimination based on viewpoint, Cotton argued that it might still enable collective censorship against conservative voices.

“I’m afraid the bill would give media and Big Tech companies a free pass to censor the views of conservatives,” he said.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) dissented from the majority of the panel, citing worries that the bill could compel platforms to carry and pay for content they fundamentally disagree with.

Padilla also expressed concerns about the bill’s effectiveness in protecting local newspapers and its potential impact on moderating content, including election disinformation.

“I worry the bill would be used to disincentivize efforts to moderate content including but not limited to election disinformation,” he said.

Urgency for Legislative Action

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a lead sponsor of the bill and chair of the antitrust subcommittee, emphasized the need for passing this legislation and other measures aimed at addressing the power of tech companies.

Klobuchar said that the United States is lagging behind other nations in taking action to address the broken market.

“We know the market is broken here, and it is broken all over the world. We’re starting to see country after country step in. It is our country that is the one that hasn’t been moving on tech. It is our country, it appears, in this Congress, that there is always something found,” Klobuchar said.

When the bill was introduced in March, Klobuchar said local news faced an existential crisis of plummeting ad revenues and AI changing traditional newsrooms.

“To preserve strong, independent journalism, news organizations must be able to negotiate on a level playing field with the online platforms that dominate news distribution and digital advertising,” she said in a statement at the time.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) also said in that statement that Big Tech companies were preventing small newspapers from making a profit on larger platforms, alleging that it’s killing independent newspapers, which he described as the “heart of soul” of journalism.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) echoed Klobuchar’s call for action, expressing that “enough is enough” concerning the power wielded by Big Tech companies.

Outside of Congress, the bill faces opposition from a diverse range of organizations.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Public Knowledge, along with tech industry groups such as the Chamber of Progress and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, jointly voiced their opposition in a letter to the committee.

They argued that the bill could worsen networked disinformation and hate speech while failing to provide significant benefits to local news outlets.

Additionally, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, strongly opposed the bill and previously threatened to remove news content from its platforms when a similar version of the JCPA advanced last year.

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