Last week, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) advanced out of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary by a 15-7 vote. The bill allows media companies to join together with digital platforms for a selective exemption from antitrust laws. Proponents argue this bill is necessary to save local newsrooms, which have allegedly been hit hard by the rise of social media and online advertising models. However, the tumultuous committee markup meetings elucidated fundamental problems with the proposal.
According to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Ted Cruz nearly “blew up” the JCPA with an amendment recently. During the September 8th meeting, Cruz successfully added a content moderation provision aimed at addressing anti-conservative bias. After two weeks of negotiations, Klobuchar agreed to add this language to the bill, despite earlier objections that such a provision would break down good faith negotiations. The JCPA now prohibits the parties from discussing how they “display, rank, distribute, suppress, promote, throttle, label, filter, or curate” content.
In a statement, Cruz touted his amendment as a “major win for free speech” that “strikes a blow against the virtual monopoly that Big Tech has to limit the information that Americans see online.” But herein lies the problem: antitrust is a poor remedy for censorship and content moderation concerns. The JCPA is a round peg in a square hole that will enable government-sanctioned collusion while doing nothing to remedy concerns about bias.
Other Republicans on the committee highlighted the dangers of this cartel formation. Senator Tom Cotton referred to this as “special treatment for favored industries” that would lead to “more censorship.”
Additionally, Senator Mike Lee pointed to two underlying flaws with the bill:
“The JCPA has great potential to be disastrous for competition in the news industry itself [and] crush local news under the thumbs of Big Tech and Big Media… [It would] inextricably link the financial incentives of Big Tech and the news industry by requiring tech platforms to share their monopoly rents… making publishers more dependent on Big Tech, not less.” He also noted that it would “further politicize journalism.”
The JCPA simply amounts to increased profits for a particular industry while disfavored companies foot the bill. Conservatives, even those concerned about bias and online censorship, should still favor free-market ideals over collusion and cartels. This legislation is not the way to promote competition, and it is certainly not a solution to tackle “Big Tech” censorship.