AMAC Exclusive – By Tom Campbell
Christmas almost came early for the Democratic Party last week as Congress came close to bailing out the Democrats’ fake news media allies with the bill dubbed, in Orwellian fashion, the “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act” (JCPA). But thanks to unexpected and vigorous push back from congressional Republicans, social media companies, and free speech advocacy groups, the bill was stripped from the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The conservative victory showed that even without control of one or more chambers of Congress, Republicans can still exercise power over important policy if they are willing to take a bold stand with energy and conviction and persuade just a small number of Democrats of the righteousness of their position, an important lesson for the narrow GOP majority preparing to take charge in January.
At a time when Americans’ trust in mass media is already abysmally low, passage of the JCPA would almost certainly have contributed to the further corrupting of American journalism, while empowering big tech and the mainstream media to completely marginalize conservative media outlets.
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, as well as Cory Booker of New Jersey, Dianne Feinstein of California, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and other Senate Democrats have tried to sell the legislation as a way for small and medium-sized news outlets to collectively bargain with the big social media platforms for a larger share of revenue for their content. But despite its name and that positive spin, the JCPA is designed to crush independent rivals to the mainstream media.
The JCPA legislation proposes to create an exemption in antitrust law for print, broadcast, or digital news companies, like the New York Times and the Washington Post. The carve-out would allow such companies to form collective-bargaining agreements with the big social media platforms “regarding the pricing, terms, and conditions by which the covered platform may access the content of the eligible digital journalism providers that are members of the joint negotiation entity.” The goal is to force social media platforms, such as Google and Facebook, to pay media companies for clicks on their content.
The result of the JCPA would be to empower establishment media companies over independent media outlets. Large mainstream media conglomerates, who already have plenty of political connections and money to negotiate, would be able to box out smaller media outlets that do not have the influence or means to command a pay-per-click fee to gain new views on their content. Effectively, the legislation would block smaller competitors from getting as many views on their pieces of content.
Furthermore, the legislation mandates arbitration and gives the federal government the power to enforce a final arbitrated decision. Tech-industry group NetChoice’s President and CEO Steve DelBianco had this to say about the JCPA: “The legislation will harm free speech online by creating a special class of media preferred by the government, while isolating other media outlets that some lawmakers don’t like, including conservative ones.”
Republicans in Congress have also been sounding the alarm over the impact the JCPA would have on conservative media outlets by giving the corporate media the ability to suppress conservative content. They have raised legitimate concerns that the media “cartels” could exclude conservative media outlets based on subjective factors, such as labeling stories “fake news,” “misinformation,” and “conspiracies.” Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, warned that Democrats and the mainstream media “will use it, in the end, to discriminate against people who don’t fit into their category, who aren’t defined as ‘the press’ — and who’s going to determine that?”
But the cronyist, anti-competitive, nature of the JCPA could have even greater ramifications for the free press and an open internet. Social media platforms have already strongly expressed an unwillingness to engage on the idea of paying for clicks, and this has the potential to harm not just those media companies making up the negotiating “cartels” but also the smaller, independent outlets likely to be kept out. In response to reports that the JCPA was going to be included in the NDAA, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, said it would stop allowing links to news websites altogether.
“If Congress passes an ill-conceived journalism bill as part of national security legislation, we will be forced to consider removing news from our platform altogether rather than submit to government-mandated negotiations that unfairly disregard any value we provide to news outlets through increased traffic and subscriptions,” Meta said in a statement.
Many congressional Republicans came out swinging against the inclusion of the JCPA in the NDAA. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), Representative Jim Jordan, and House Judiciary Republicans released public statements criticizing the move. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) even called on his GOP colleagues to filibuster the defense bill if it contained the JCPA. This level of pushback from Republicans was undoubtedly critical to Democrats abandoning their scheme.
The demise of the media bailout bill shows the leverage congressional Republicans have already gained, even before officially taking control of the House. However, Democrats have hinted that they may attempt to slip the JCPA into another end-of-the-year bill, such as an omnibus spending package. Though emboldened by this win, conservatives should keep up the pressure to block this and other crony government legislation from becoming law before Republicans take hold of the Speaker’s gavel in January.
Tom Campbell is the pen name of a Washington, D.C.-based professional with more than a decade of policy and legislative experience at the state and federal levels of government.
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