Congress must act to preserve the future of local journalism
In 2022, with news from around the world available at the touch of a button, how do we stay informed about the events that are shaping our communities? Who is shining a spotlight on city hall or informing our choices at the polls? Who helps consumers when they are wronged or exposed to unsafe conditions in our neighborhoods? Who has educated the public throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, cut through misinformation and helped us stay healthy?
Broadcast TV and radio stations, and the thousands of journalists they employ, are providing timely, trustworthy reporting on the issues affecting the places in which we live, work, learn and raise our families.
These journalists, take seriously their work and what it means to our country. Inadequate local news has been linked to more government corruption, less-competitive elections and weaker municipal finances. The lack of local news can place lives in danger, fray the bonds of unity in our communities and weaken our democracy.
Unfortunately — and alarmingly — the economic foundation of local journalism is under assault.
Local broadcasters rely on advertising, particularly from small businesses, to finance incredibly expensive news gathering operations. However, today’s advertising marketplace is now dominated by a handful of behemoth tech platforms — some of the wealthiest companies in history with market caps that dwarf the entire news publishing industry. News outlets face stiff challenges to recoup this loss in advertising revenue. Local broadcasters in smaller and rural markets, with fewer new advertisers they can attract to make up this shortfall, have been particularly harmed.
Local TV and radio stations have continually embraced new forms of content distribution — including online streaming — to engage with their viewers, readers and listeners. Yet, they must compete with the monopolistic power these tech giants wield over digital platforms as gatekeepers to content.
Just how much power do these tech companies wield? The Wall Street Journal recently reported that last year, “when Facebook blocked news in Australia in response to potential legislation making platforms pay publishers for content, it also took down the pages of Australian hospitals, emergency services and charities. It publicly called the resulting chaos ‘inadvertent.’” Internal whistleblowers at the company paint a different picture however, alleging that the social media giant deliberately blocked the pages of these critically important sources of information to “exert maximum negotiating leverage over the Australian Parliament, which was voting on the first law in the world that would require platforms such as Google and Facebook to pay news outlets for content.”
News outlets have almost no leverage when dealing with tech giants regarding the terms for how online content is compensated or displayed on these platforms. Tech platforms can favor some sources of news over others — such as national outlets over small publishers. They can place a fact-checked story from a reputable news outlet next to flashy clickbait, seemingly misleading users on the quality of the information they are consuming. They can set a minimum content length that exceeds a typical news segment before a video receives compensation. They can group local journalism into general “news” categories advertisers choose to avoid or they can exclude news publishers from more lucrative advertising options altogether. Digital platforms also singlehandedly control the revenue split for monetized content, dictating to broadcasters and other news publishers how much they will receive for their content.
There is strong support among the American public for lawmakers to take action and preserve the future of local journalism. A recent national survey found three-fourths of Americans believe Big Tech companies are driving small and local news outlets out of business, and four out of five Americans support Congress taking steps to give small and local publishers more parity with Big Tech companies during negotiations over the use of their content.
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) would do just that, allowing local news outlets to come together to negotiate the terms for how their content is accessed online.
This bill, which has support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, would help level the playing field for news outlets against these big tech companies.
Thank you to Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Kennedy (R-La.) and Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.) for leading the charge for the JCPA and working to ensure the viability of local news in our communities.
News publishers from across the country have come together to implore Congress to pass this much-needed legislation that would provide meaningful guardrails for fair negotiations between news publishers and dominant digital platforms, create a fair deal that would benefit news consumers and allow local journalism to continue serving our communities.
Curtis LeGeyt is president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters.
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