Antitrust journalism bill stalls in Congress as conservative critics cite media censorship concerns

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An antitrust bill intending to give news publishers leverage to combat Big Tech crashed into bipartisan opposition in the House and Senate Thursday.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee, but House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has declared it dead in the House and Sen. Alex Padilla, California Democrat, plans to prevent its passage in the Senate.

The antitrust journalism proposal’s supporters want media outlets to have more power to negotiate over advertising and content distribution with Big Tech platforms such as Google and Meta’s Facebook. Opponents of the legislation counter that the bill will embolden the censorship of conservatives and not benefit journalists.

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, said at a Judiciary Committee meeting Thursday that nothing in the bill will stop Big Tech and media organizations from censoring conservative content for alleged trustworthiness concerns and through other private arrangements.

“I’m afraid that the bill would give media and Big Tech companies a free pass to collude to censor the views of conservatives,” Mr. Cotton said. “The version of the bill we’re considering today does include provisions that allegedly fix this problem by prohibiting news discrimination by Big Tech based on viewpoint of the content. Unfortunately, the bill would still allow the media and Big Tech companies plenty of backdoors to collectively censor conservative views and voices.”

Lawmakers have fought a perennial battle over the bill since 2018. Its lead author in the Senate said Wednesday that it may soon be time for Congress to stop giving supporters of the bill false hope that it will ever become law.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, said she’s willing to modify the bill she has pushed for several years, but doubts she can find common ground with her critics.

“I am more than happy to work with our colleagues but if the answer is going to be ‘my way or the highway’ and the answer is always whatever Big Tech wants they get, then we aren’t going to advance this bill,” Ms. Klobuchar said.  “Let’s just be honest if that’s what we want to tell the world.”

Republican co-sponsors of the legislation likewise said Thursday’s vote was an exercise in futility. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said the antitrust journalism bill is among several tech crackdown proposals going nowhere.

Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, said he was not certain the bill he helped author would accomplish its intent of empowering news outlets in disputes against tech platforms.

“This bill will create a mechanism to allow the two sides to sit down and negotiate on fair compensation,” Mr. Kennedy said at the meeting. “I can’t guarantee it’ll work.”

In the absence of federal action, some states are intervening. The California State Assembly passed a state-specific version of the antitrust journalism legislation this month, directing companies such as Google and Meta to share ad revenue with California media outlets.

As the bill awaits consideration in California’s Senate, Democratic attorneys general from 11 states wrote to Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Kennedy last week voicing their support for the federal antitrust journalism bill.

The bill has numerous opponents. Mr. McCarthy told Breitbart News on Saturday that the antitrust journalism bill won’t pass the House.

Mr. Padilla said Thursday he would put a hold on the legislation once it reaches the Senate floor. He said he harbored concerns that the legislation won’t benefit individual journalists and stop people from freely linking to others’ content online.

“If the goal of the bill is to help save journalism, then let’s actually make it about journalists and journalism,” Mr. Padilla said. “I’m disappointed the bill was scheduled for markup before these issues [were] worked out because we raised them long ago.”

Big Tech platforms such as Facebook have routinely fought the legislation. Meta previously said if the antitrust journalism legislation became law, it would consider removing news from its platform. The company referred questions Thursday about the legislation to its previous statement.

Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, said the antitrust journalism bill would make media organizations more dependent on Big Tech companies by aligning news publishers and tech platforms’ financial incentives.

“It just makes no sense,” Mr. Lee said. “I decided today in the interest of time not to take up additional committee time by asking for the consideration of more amendments, especially given the fact that we’ve gone through that in the past and also given Speaker McCarthy’s recent statements along this line.”

The News Media Alliance, a coalition of publishers including The Washington Times, has lobbied in support of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. The alliance applauded the reintroduction of the bill this year and called for its passage.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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