Preserving quality, trusted journalism in communities is essential to our democracy
This month, our nation commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution that took place more than 200 years ago. Today’s media landscape is much more complex, yet our forefathers’ fundamental embrace of the free speech principles enshrined in the First Amendment has been an enduring constant.
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
The role of America’s local television and radio stations in a nation that promises freedom of the press is the duty to discover the truth and to report the same. The more than 12,000 local radio and television stations in the United States play an essential role in their communities, providing trusted, unbiased local news and other critical information.
But billion-dollar tech companies are threatening the future of local journalism that is the very bedrock of our democracy. Without congressional action, your trusted local news may someday be nothing more than misinformation and clickbait.
Thanks to advertising revenue, broadcasters provide a uniquely free over-the-air service to the public. However, the rapid, often anticompetitive expansion of the dominant Big Tech platforms has upended the advertising marketplace, posing a grave threat to the industry.
The rise of Big Tech has put broadcasters and other news publishers in an unprecedented position. Local news outlets must compete with multibillion-dollar companies that are siphoning broadcasters’ trusted content for their own profit. Attempts at negotiation with these tech giants over local news content often results in take-it-or-leave-it terms, which means most of the profit goes to Big Tech, if not all of it.
It feels like an impossible situation for local news outlets that must remain active on these platforms for the benefit of their audiences, yet are unable to fairly negotiate the terms of access with behemoth Big Tech companies. Left unchecked, Americans will lose access to the most trusted local news as broadcasters and newspapers face an uncertain and daunting future.
In a world where Big Tech reigns, Americans could face the accelerated disappearance of their once-daily local paper. Already more than 40 percent of the largest 100 newspapers are delivering less than seven times per week.
As the public’s faith in social media and polarizing cable news shows dwindles, dependence on local broadcasting grows stronger. Americans turn to local radio and TV stations for “just the facts” news, real journalism and robust civic debate that allows engagement from both sides. But this all goes away unless Congress levels the playing field with Big Tech.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers thankfully recognizes that the status quo is unsustainable, which is why local news producers are applauding the Senate Judiciary Committee’s willingness to act on the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA). This is not a government handout, nor would it create a new regulatory regime. It would simply create a framework for news publishers to negotiate on equal terms with the Big Tech behemoths in the marketplace.
This bill has bipartisan sponsors and support in both chambers of Congress. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Kennedy (R-La.) are courageous leaders in advocating for a level playing field in how local news content is accessed and monetized on Big Tech’s platforms.
Preserving quality, trusted journalism in communities is essential to our democracy and will require policies that ensure broadcasters and other news publishers are fairly and justly compensated for their valuable content and investigative reporting.
Passage of this legislation is vital to broadcasters’ mission to create an informed citizenry, ensuring the fundamental truths espoused by our nation’s founders will endure. Never has our role been so critical in our democratic process.
Smith is former CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters. He currently serves as an advisor. He served as senator from Oregon from 1997-2009.