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From Antitrust Law Daily, March 9, 2018

Congressman Cicilline introduces Journalism Competition and Preservation Act

By Jody Coultas, J.D.

Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the "Journalism Competition and Preservation Act," which proposes to introduce a limited safe harbor into current antitrust laws providing news publishers the ability to collectively negotiate with technology platforms on factors that impact public access to news, such as the quality, accuracy, and attribution of news sources. Cicilline, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee said "Our democracy is strongest when we have a free, open press that informs citizens, holds public officials accountable, and roots out corruption."

Facebook and Google make up a duopoly in the marketplace, with nearly 3 out of 4 Americans getting their news from platforms controlled by the two corporations. The duopoly is capturing 83 percent of all digital ad revenue growth and 73 percent of total U.S. digital advertising. To address this imbalance in the marketplace created by the platforms’ dominance, the proposed bill would provide a 48-month safe harbor so smaller, local papers can collectively negotiate with Facebook and Google. Newspapers could negotiate fair terms that would flow subscription and advertising dollars back to publishers, while protecting and preserving Americans’ right to access quality news.

The Act would only allow coordination by news publishers if it (1) directly relates to the quality, accuracy, attribution or branding, and interoperability of news; (2) benefits the entire industry, rather than just a few publishers, and are non-discriminatory to other news publishers; and (3) is directly related to and reasonably necessary for these negotiations, instead of being used for ulterior purposes.

More than 200,000 local and national news publications have expressed support for the bill, including the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), the trade association representing editors; the National Newspaper Association (NNA) and Association of Alterative Newsmedia (AAN), the trade associations representing weekly news publications and alternative news media, respectively; and 44 state press associations representing 47 states.

Professor Frank Pasquale, a leading expert on competition and technology, praised the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act as "a very important step toward leveling the playing field online. If independent media organizations can't collectively bargain for better terms, we should expect media concentration to accelerate as journalists scramble for some bargaining power against massive platforms. This bill is a commonsense way to realize the original intent of America's antitrust laws."

Barry Lynn, the Executive Director of the Open Markets Institute, said that the antitrust agencies "for years pursued a completely irresponsible policy of letting Google and Facebook monopolize the market for news media advertising, in part by manipulating how reporters and readers connect. These actions have harmed the rights of citizens to free and unfettered access to news, and have seriously harmed the financial well-being of trustworthy sources of information. At OMI, we have great confidence the agencies will soon realize their error. Meanwhile it is not fair to prevent publishers from bargaining collectively or jointly exploring other ways to distribute their news. At OMI, we will continue to fight for a completely open market for news and information. Until that’s possible, a temporary antitrust immunity is the best way to counter the already extreme and dangerous concentration of power by platform monopolists over the free press in America."

David Chavern, President and CEO of the National Media Alliance, which represents almost 2,000 news organizations, said, "We are grateful to Congressman Cicilline for his commitment to ensuring fair competition with the platforms and for his work to preserve quality journalism. Our industry depends on our ability to continue to invest in stories that report the truth and hold our public officials accountable."

MainStory: TopStory Antitrust FedTracker

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