News organizations and journalists — and those consumers who are savvy and pay attention to such things — might be encouraged by the discussion around the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. Congress is considering the proposal, which reportedly aims to create a method for allowing digital and print publishers and news organizations to negotiate contracts from platforms like Google and Facebook as a collective bargaining unit. This would, in theory, give smaller outlets more power when trying to create deals with the Goliaths of the news world.
But Public Knowledge and 20 other public interest groups, consumer advocacy organizations and civil society groups, along with some media companies and legal experts, want to pump the brakes a little on the enthusiasm the bill is receiving.
While the bill has some strong points and overdue protections, other provisions should cause concern.
Public Knowledge, a nonprofit organization that promotes freedom of expression and access to affordable communications tools, among other things, is supportive of the bill’s acknowledgment of “a role for public policy in ensuring that citizens have access to information they need to engage in the political process,” says Lisa Macpherson, a senior policy analyst with Public Knowledge. “Due to, really, decades-long changes in how news is distributed and how it’s consumed, we’re now facing a genuine crisis in local news. It is worth preserving. That crisis isn’t just hypothetical.”
However, for all its strengths in promoting access to news in order to support an informed electorate and engaged citizens, “the JCPA is the wrong solution,” she says.
The ability for broadcasters and news publishers to band together for negotiations might sound great, but the proposed bill would allow those publishers and broadcasters to prohibit Facebook, Google and other platforms from accessing their content without paying for it, “which ultimately means the public’s access to critical information online could be threatened,” according to Macpherson.
Requiring payment for linking to articles “kind of threatens one of Public Knowledge’s principles about open and equitable access to information,” she continues. “It wouldn’t be a big leap to extend that demand for payment to smaller platforms, then other kinds of organizations, and then internet users, and that could happen in either new and expanded legislation or it could happen in how JCPA is interpreted by courts.”
As written, the bill also would send most of the advertising-linked money to the largest media organizations and lobbying groups, without any requirement that their funds are spent on journalism. Additionally, there are provisions in the proposed legislation that “actually discourage or even prevent platforms from using content moderation to support their community standards or terms of service. That means users might see more harmful disinformation and extreme content and hate speech. Simply put, we think this bill will actually compound some of the biggest problems in the information landscape like consolidation and declining quality of information that’s available to citizens.”
Lisa Macpherson, a senior policy analyst at Public Knowledge, explains why the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act may not make competition for ad revenue online more equitable for publishers. In fact, it might make things worse.