Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Online News Antitrust Bill

Capitol Building
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Image credit: Capitol Hill)

The Senate Judiciary Committee has favorably reported the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (S. 673) to the Senate for a vote, potentially paving the way for broadcasters, newspapers and other journalism creators to share in the revenue their original news content generates for Big Tech platforms.

That came at a business session Thursday (Sept. 22).

The bill, which creates a limited antitrust exemption to allow publishers to collectively negotiate with the largest platforms such as Google or Meta (Facebook), has been modified to clarify that it is about fair compensation for news creators, not what content should or should not be on those platforms.

The measure also provides for outside arbitration if deals can’t be struck.

There is plenty of bipartisan support for the bill, which was able to bring together Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who forced the issue on clarifying the bill was not about content, but compensation.

Klobuchar, who worked with Cruz and the bill's lead Republican, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), said the bill was never intended to be about negotiating for payment, not for content type. Cruz, though, had been concerned that the bill would allow Google or Facebook to include which type of content they would have on their platforms. Cruz and other Republicans have long argued that Big Tech uses its power to favor liberal content while censoring conservative voices.

She said the bill as approved Thursday (Sept. 22) now makes it clear that “discussions about content are outside of the scope of the bill, and of the bill's narrow antitrust safe harbor.”

“This bill bars Big Tech firms from throttling, filtering, suppressing or curating online content while providing local news outlets with a fair playing field to negotiate against these censorship giants,” Kennedy said.

But not all the senators were praising the final result.

Also: DOJ’s Jonathan Kanter Says Big Tech Needs Antitrust Mole Whacking

Sen. Alex Padilla, a Democrat from Silicon Valley's home state of California, had a number of issues. Top among them, or at least the first he raised before the vote, was that the money secured by broadcasters and other original content creators might not go to the workers, but instead to stock buybacks and executive salaries.

The bill was adjusted to toughen the reporting requirements, which he had asked for, but he said those were still only reporting obligations. Then there was the issue of content. He said the bill was still about content, since its prohibition on Big Tech platforms taking content into consideration in negotiations meant they could be subsidizing disinformation and hate speech on outlets with which they fundamentally disagree. He also argued that the bill would compel payments for “foundational” features of the internet, such as aggregating, crawling or indexing.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also had plenty of discouraging words. He said the fundamental flaw in the bill was that it was trying to boost competition by sanctioning the creation of cartels, cartels that antitrust laws “go out of their way to prohibit.” In protesting the bill, computer companies repeatedly called it a cartel creator.

Also: Big Tech Says Media Antitrust Exemption Would Create News Cartels

Lee also said that if the goal was to get new content creators out of the big shadow of Big Tech, it instead tied them financially to the “monopoly rents” of those platforms.

Those concerns notwithstanding, the majority of committee members, Democrats and Republicans, backed the bill and it is headed to the Senate for a vote. ▪️

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.