A Bill Intended to Protect Journalists Could End Up Boosting Far Right Media

Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), a bill with the noble goal of supporting local and independent journalism by allowing news publishers to “collectively negotiate” with the Big Tech platforms they depend on to reach readers. Critics are concerned that the legislation could empower conspiracy theorists, feed media conglomerates and give them a stranglehold in local news.

Supporters of the legislation argue that corporations would be required to share huge ad revenue from sharing news links with people who make the news. This is happening as local newspapers close down and misinformation spreads across the online landscape. An unusual coalition of unions along with liberal media watchdogs, libertarian tech organizations, and unions have called for or opposed major changes to the bill’s various iterations. They claim union-busting corporations and far right propaganda outlets stand the greatest chance of benefit much more from the bill’s current languageYou would be better off than you are struggling local journalists.

Championed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and a bipartisan list of cosponsors, the JPCA would temporarily carve out protections in anti-trust law to allow news publishers to join up and negotiate with large web platforms over payment for “content.” Facebook and Meta are implicit targets, although many online platforms with more than 50 million users in the U.S. would also be required to negotiate publishing terms and share revenues from the targeted ads that follow news readers online.

Under the bill, eligible publishers engaged in “standard newsgathering practices” would create “joint negotiating entities” — critics call it a “cartel” — and hammer out agreements before a federal arbitration board on content display and subsidies from ad revenues. Twitter, a social media company, would not be permitted to remove links from publishers who demand payment for driving traffic. News outlets would also be allowed to jointly withhold content on a platform as part of the negotiations.

Joint negotiations would be held between eligible outlets to negotiate content placement and subsidies, based on ad revenues generated by clicks on search engine engines or social media. The idea is not to allow Big Tech platforms to act as gatekeepers for millions of news consumers.

“To preserve strong, independent journalism, we have to make sure news organizations are able to negotiate on a level playing field with the online platforms that have come to dominate news distribution and digital advertising,” Klobuchar said in a statement after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill on September 22.

Yet journalists had concerns about Klobuchar’s proposal from the start. They were concerned that large, powerful publishers might outnumber local and independent newsrooms to maintain their dominance over the big platforms. The current bill limits eligible outlets to those with less than 1,500 employees. This excludes companies like the New York Times The Washington PostSeveral national broadcasters.

However, critics claim that loopholes in broadcasters’ contracts would allow right-wing networks, such as Fox News and Sinclair Broadcast Group, which own or partner with local news stations across the country, to enter into “cartel” negotiations with social media companies, meaning they could negotiate for content placement and subsidies.

“The main problem with the JCPA is that it aims to ‘save journalism’ by allowing large media conglomerates to form cartels, by which they can extract payments from companies like Meta and Google for featuring their content,” said Tim Karr, communications director for the media and tech watchdog Free Press, in an interview. “But the companies that would benefit from this arrangement, including Fox Television, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Alden Global Capital, share a healthy portion of the blame for journalism job losses and other cuts to local newsroom operations that created the crisis in the first place.”

Adam Kovacevich was the founder of Center-Left Chamber for Progress argues that far right propaganda networksAnd websites such Alex Jones’s Infowars, One American News, Breitbart and Newsmax — as well as a widening array Trumpist pundits and conspiracy theorists moonlighting as sources of “news” — could also demand that their links appear on searches and feeds, even if moderators decide they are promoting the kind of violence and misinformation that led to the January 6 riots.

“[The JCPA] permits a news outlet to bring a legal action against a platform to hold it liable for limiting the reach of content the platform owner finds offensive or contrary to its terms of service or community standards,” said Lisa Macpherson, a senior policy analyst at the media watchdog Public Knowledge, in an email to Truthout.

After facing a legislative challenge by Senator Ted Cruz (R.Texas), which demanded that content moderation be off limits for negotiations, Klobuchar agreed to a compromise that won bipartisan support in Judiciary Committee. Macpherson stated that the compromise amendment is based upon the idea that conservatives were singled out for censorship via tech platforms. This claim was repeatedly made. refuted by researchers.

“[The bill] will, if anything, increase the amount of disinformation and hate speech on the internet, totally contrary to its goal of improving our information landscape by ensuring more legitimate news,” Macpherson said.

The JCPA could still be a boon for independent newsrooms and nonprofit newsrooms, regardless of political affiliation, that rely on donations and social networking exposure to survive. These outlets have been replacing traditional newspapers in local and regional markets as ad revenues dry up and vulture capitalismists close and consolidate local newsrooms. The remaining local newspapers may be able negotiate for a new source or better online exposure.

Jon Schleuss of the NewsGuild CWA (a union that has helped many struggling newspapers to consolidate) said that the bill’s current version could leave local journalists out. Schleuss claimed that media consolidating corporations will still have incentives to buy up struggling newsrooms in order to profit from a new source of income while laying off employees, despite recent amendments that require publishers to report how much revenue comes to platforms and how much goes directly to journalists.

“I believe that we need stronger language to ensure that the revenue from this bill goes to the workers that make journalism possible and is invested in the high-quality local journalism that those workers produce,” Schleuss told the Judiciary Committee last month.

According to reports, the JCPA will be heading to the Senate floor to vote. However, the NewsGuild and CWA are urging lawmakers to not vote on the legislation until improvements are made. Macpherson said Congress should focus on different legislation entirely, including the American Innovation and Online Choice Act and the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, which would “rein in the excesses of Big Tech in a meaningful way.” Together, the bills would establish consumer rights for online data protection and allow for regulation of Big Tech companies under anti-trust law.

Meanwhile, after a decade of changing their business models to succeed on Silicon Valley’s terms, corporate outlets and the publishing industry — the employers who would ultimately negotiate with Big Tech — are touting the JCPA as a success that would “correct the competitive imbalance” in news distribution as the age of print media fades.

Klobuchar struck a chord in his meeting with the JCPA. Both journalists and lawmakers from both sides are keen to break the Big Tech Monopsony and revive the local news, an important pillar of civic life and electoral life that has been eroded by the advent of polarizing algorithms and cable news. Unfortunately, despite Klobuchar’s invariably upbeat statements, nobody seems to agree on how to do it. .

Full disclosure: Truthout The United Media Guild is representing the team under the NewsGuild – CWA.