Georgia Republican Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA-09) teamed with Rhode Island Democratic U.S. Rep. David Cicilline to introduce bipartisan legislation that he says will “help level newspapers’ playing field.” And a group of new industry officials turned up in Washington Tuesday to urge members of a House antitrust subcommittee to pass the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.
“Community journalism holds a critical place in our democracy because it helps the American people understand and engage in civil society,” said Collins. “Through our bipartisan legislation, we are opening the door for community newspapers to more fairly negotiate with large tech platforms that are operating in an increasingly anti-competitive space. This will help protect journalism, promote competition and allow communities to stay informed.”
Collins, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, made opening statements at the Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee hearing, stating that this bill takes head-on the problem of local and other news organizations disappearing from the public square as news consumption moves increasingly online.
“A vibrant press has been critical to the success of our democracy since the founding of the Republic,” Collins said. “In the past, press organizations were able to thrive based on their subscription and advertising revenues, but as news consumption has moved to the Internet, traditional subscriptions are speedily drying up and online advertising revenues are increasingly dominated by online platforms.”
According to Collins, The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act allows news publications four years in which they can collectively negotiate with the platforms without fearing antitrust enforcement against that activity.
Collins said he teamed with Cicilline to develop the bipartisan legislation because something has to be done. “Sadly, newspapers across the country — which have informed their communities for decades– are closing their doors because revenue that normally funds their papers is instead going to Facebook and Google, even though users are engaging with news content.
“Facebook and Google aren’t producing the news,” said Collins. “They are choosing how content is displayed, in what order it appears in searches and how much advertising revenue they pass along to the publications that actually produced the articles that drive the content to online platforms.”
Collins stressed that the legislation does not propose any new regulatory structures. “It does not threaten to break any company up, but it does promise to simply and effectively solve the problem.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Editor Kevin Riley was along those testifying in front of the committee, and was introduced by Collins. In his statement, Riley stated, “If others repackage our journalism and make money off it, yet none of that money makes its way back to the local paper, then it makes breaking that next story or exposing the next scandal more challenging. If that cycle continues indefinitely, quality local journalism will slowly wither and eventually cease to exist.”
Collins said he felt passage of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act will “help ensure platforms like Google and Facebook enhance the important work of our community newspapers, not eliminate them. If we continue down our current path, not only will the newspaper industry suffer, families across the nation will lose access to the news they depend on.”
Federal antitrust laws bar news organizations from banding together to negotiate more favorable terms from social media and search sites. A companion bill that also has support from both sides of the aisle has been introduced in the Senate and is being backed by presidential contender Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy.