Senator Ted Cruz successfully introduced a controversial amendment to the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act which then split the already tenuous two-party coalition. As a result, Senator Amy Klobuchar asked to hold the bill for a future committee meeting, explaining that “the agreement we had had been cancelled.”
Initiated by Klobuchar in March 2021, the JCPA brought together an unusual cohort co-sponsors that included Republican senses John Kennedy, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham alongside Democratic senses Cory Booker, Dianne Feinstein and Richard Blumenthal.
The law project tent to create a temporary antitrust exclusion that would allow smaller media organizations to collectively negotiate advertising rates against large tech companies. The exclusion would last eight years and only apply to businesses with fewer than 1,500 full-time employees. If the two sides can’t negotiate a deal in good faith, the media cohort could force Big Tech companies into arbitration.
Media conglomerates that have acquired dozens of local news organizations could still negotiate under the exemption, which has become a contentious issue. Senator Klobuchar said she preferred a version of the bill that placed no restrictions on the size of a newsroom, so it would even include the New York Times and Washington Post, both of which are excluded. in the current project. Several conservative senators have expressed concern that the antitrust exclusion would allow the media to exclude right-wing outlets from negotiations.
“These self-proclaimed left-wing media cartels are allowed to exclude based on the usual, totally subjective factors they always do, such as reliability, fake news, extremism, misinformation, hate speech, conspiracy , correction policy, expertise, authority, etc. said Sen. Mike Lee during the committee meeting.
Lee said he had no intention of voting for the bill, in part because of how it distorted media incentives. “This version of the JCPA would inextricably link the financial incentives of Big Tech and the news industry by requiring technology platforms to share their monopoly rents with news publishers,” Lee said. This dynamic would encourage news publishers to cover up and defend Big Tech rather than hold it accountable, he said.
Cruz’s amendment revoked antitrust protections if news organizations discussed content moderation in negotiations. The amendment passed along party lines by a margin of just one vote.
Klobuchar countered by telling Cruz that the JCPA already included provisions that guaranteed content-neutral negotiations; tech platforms would only be forced to pay for content they already had access to.
“Given that news organizations are dependent on the antitrust exemption – the other covered platforms do not – then the platforms could increase content moderation at the first opportunity and attempt to avoid joint negotiations” , said Klobuchar.
Senator Klobuchar says POLITICO she is still determined to pass a bipartisan bill to protect local journalism. Yet, given the failed committee vote this morning, the legislation has an even better chance of passing. Cruz repeatedly said he had a hard time seeing how it would go down on the court, even if it went through the committee.
The stalled negotiations show the fragility of any bipartisan effort to rein in Big Tech. The JCPA had a unique set of problems, however, and even organizations generally critical of Big Tech found flaws in its approach. FEP, for example, published a response to the JCPA in June that said it would allow the “big corporations and investment vehicles that dominate online journalism” to “reap the rewards of buying, firing and baiting these newsrooms”.
Even when that bipartisan coalition disbanded, some senators maintained an optimistic note about antitrust efforts in general. Senator Josh Hawley, for example, praised Senator Klobuchar for her work on the US Online Choice and Innovation Actalthough he said he would not vote for his proposal this time around.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of Senator Josh Hawley. This story was updated on September 8, 2022.