Sen. Maria Cantwell Pushes Infrastructure Billions for Local Journalism

Sen. Maria Cantwell

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told an audience of broadcasters this week that she was trying to fight the trend of broadcasting workforce losses due to the pandemic and "information age changes" (translation: Big Tech), including by proposing a big government investment in local news.

In a virtual keynote at the National Association of Broadcasters state legislative fly-in, Cantwell said that was why she believes broadcast journalism should be considered part of the nation's critical infrastructure.

She said that if the President moves an infrastructure bill, journalism should be included as a source of trusted information because it "puts faith into many of our policy decisions because we know there is competition and we know we can trust the source of information."

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She said the chances that an infrastructure bill would get passed were high, but that the chances broadcasting would be part of it were not as high. But she said that she thought that broadcasters and legislators working together could succeed, as they did with getting more money for stations in the COVID-19 small business aid package.

As to the knock on fake news, Cantwell said that if "from time to time" it may be inaccurate, the system is self-correcting.

She said that was why she would be proposing that infrastructure investment include "at least" $2.3 billion in tax credits and grants for local journalism over the next two to three years.

She said that while Congress investigated unfair antitrust impacts on the news marketplace--most notably whether broadcast and print journalists should get an antitrust exemption to collectively negotiate for the use of their content by online aggregators--those journalists needed help now.

The tax credits would help broadcasters pay for salary and healthcare benefits, while a grant program would help rehire some of the workforce.

"Local journalism has won the support of many advertisers and others who believe this is the go-to source when they want their brand to be trusted," she said.

Cantwell said her committee would be launching a series of hearings in the next few weeks on the state of broadcasting, unfair market competition in the sector and what Congress should do about it.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.