Straight Talk Between Klobuchar, Cruz Advances Senate Journalism Antitrust Bill
WASHINGTON — It took two weeks of straight talk and negotiations, but in the end, a deal between Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, advanced what could prove to be a highly significant antitrust bill for the news media out of a Senate committee on Thursday.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Klobuchar and John Kennedy, R-La., and known as the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, is intended to help small and local news outlets negotiate fair compensation for the use of their content by big tech platforms like Google and Facebook.
In essence, it will provide limited protection from federal and state antitrust laws for eligible digital journalism providers, including most newsrooms that employ fewer than 1,500 full-time employees, so that they could participate in joint negotiations.
The employee cap was intended to exclude the country’s three largest newspapers and national broadcasters.
Despite its apparent noble intent, however, the bill faced tough sledding in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
During a markup of the bill earlier this month, Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., came down with COVID-19 and was forced to isolate.
That opened the door for a vote on an amendment by Cruz, aimed at preventing content moderation and censorship of conservatives on major social media and search engines.
But Klobuchar had deep reservations about the Cruz amendment.
As originally conceived, it would eliminate the antitrust exemption if either side in negotiations mentions content moderation — in other words, the censoring of conservative content.
Klobuchar objected to that wording, fearing it would allow the tech platforms to simply bring up content moderation whenever they wanted to avoid reaching a deal.
In order to prevent that, Klobuchar yanked her bill from the committee’s agenda, but that led to further discussions with Cruz during which a compromise was struck.
The amended version considered on Thursday included new text that said the negotiations shall be conducted “solely to reach an agreement regarding the pricing, terms and conditions” and would not address how platforms display or rank content.
“Platforms like Facebook and Google are counting on Republicans and Democrats being unable to put aside their differences to agree on meaningful legislation in the tech sector. This is our moment to prove them wrong,” Klobuchar said before the voting began.
“I think this is a good amendment,” he said during a hearing on Thursday. “I think this is a significant amendment. I think this amendment protects against this antitrust liability being used as a shield for censorship.”
In a statement, Kennedy said, “Tech Goliaths like Facebook and Google are strangling smaller conservative publications by keeping them from making a profit on online platforms.
“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 they didn’t get the complete buy-in of their colleagues. In the end, the vote was 15-7 with seven Republicans voting against the now bipartisan amendment.
After the vote, Klobuchar took to Twitter to announce the outcome.
“Independent journalism is critical to strengthening democracy & keeping us informed,” she said. “My bipartisan bill with Sen. Kennedy to help save our local media outlets from losing hard-earned revenue to Facebook & Google just passed out of committee 15-7! One step closer to becoming law!”
The bill was one of several Klobuchar has sponsored this Congress trying to limit the power of the Big Tech firms.
As the end of the current Congress nears, she’s been pushing for votes not just on the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, but also the Open App Markets Act and the American Online Innovation and Choice Act.
She’s not marshalled all three through the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support, but so far, no floor votes have been scheduled for them.
The House has also not taken any action at all yet on either the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act or the Open App Markets Act.