Bipartisan group of lawmakers backs bill ‘to save local news’

A bill that would allow news outlets to bargain with tech platforms over the distribution of their content was reintroduced in both chambers by a bipartisan group of lawmakers Wednesday.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act is being touted as a way to “save local news” and comes as lawmakers push forward with broader efforts to rein in the market power of the top tech companies.

It follows the passage of an Australian law late last month that forces tech giants to pay publishers for content and subjects the tech companies to mandatory price arbitration if a deal cannot be reached. 

The Australian bill initially faced fierce pushback from top tech companies, including Facebook and Google. Facebook even implemented a restriction on news content in Australia, but later reversed after last-minute negotiations with the Australian government.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would not go quite as far as the Australian approach.

It would establish a temporary four-year safe harbor from antitrust laws for news outlets that allows publishers to negotiate collectively with the digital content distributors, such as Google and Facebook.

The bill was reintroduced in the House by House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), subcommittee ranking member Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.). A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), head of the Judiciary subcommittee on competition policy, antitrust and consumer rights, and Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).

“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. 

Buck similarly said the bill is an “important start to remedying the results of Google, Facebook, and other’s anticompetitive conduct” toward news outlets. 

Klobuchar said the legislation would help “improve the quality of reporting” by giving outlets a “fighting chance when negotiating for fair treatment by the digital platforms.”

When Klobuchar and Kennedy introduced the bill in the previous Congress, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) was one of three Republican co-sponsors.

The reintroduction of the bill comes ahead of two antitrust hearings this week, one in the Senate on Thursday and one in the House the following day.

Microsoft President Brad Smith, who wrote a blog post last month urging the U.S. to adopt a policy similar to Australia’s, is scheduled to testify at the House hearing.

David Chavern, president of the News Media Alliance, which has strongly backed the legislation, is also scheduled to testify Friday.

They will be joined by Emily Barr, president of the Graham Media Group and television board chair of the National Association of Broadcasters, and Jonathan Schleuss, president of NewsGuild-CWA. More witnesses will be announced, according to the subcommittee.

Updated at 1:36 p.m.

Tags Amy Klobuchar antitrust David Cicilline Facebook Facebook Google Google John Kennedy Ken Buck Mark DeSaulnier Microsoft Mitch McConnell

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