JCPA’s National Security Threat: A China-Sized Loophole

Late last year, a bipartisan array of public interest advocates, media organizations and tech experts urged Congressional leaders to exclude the deeply flawed Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Widespread antipathy to the JCPA has been long-standing, and its list of problems remains extensive. But when the bill was discussed in the context of defense legislation in 2022, the JCPA’s acute implications for U.S. national security came into clearer focus. One particularly alarming revelation raised was how the JCPA could empower the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and other foreign entities. 

By forcing American tech platforms to carry and pay for publishers’ content, the JCPA could artificially prop up the interests of foreign-owned media with funds from U.S.-based tech platforms. While JCPA language does include a narrow exemption for “foreign terrorist organizations” and “agents of foreign powers,” in practice, a newspaper like China Daily (which is closely linked with the “Publicity” Department of the CCP) or Russian entities could still find covert workarounds to peddle influence with American news consumers. Attribution of foreign propaganda and influence operations is notoriously difficult. Even worse, the JCPA’s must-carry requirement would help provide unparalleled access to American readers and would help legitimize “news” that is functionally foreign propaganda.  

Another JCPA-facilitated win for China-backed entities is that only US-based tech platforms would be beholden to the convoluted funding regime. Not only does JCPA result in the transfer of revenue to foreign publications, but it also exempts platforms based outside of the U.S. from the JCPA’s forced payment and must-carry requirements. TikTok, whose Beijing-based owner is mired in security concerns, could continue to feature U.S. publishers’ content at its own discretion without paying for it. By avoiding these obligations, TikTok, Baidu, and other Chinese firms would be net beneficiaries of the JCPA. 

The JCPA emboldens the CCP in a number of ways, both direct and indirect. For example, the CCP has already been planting seeds among U.S. Big Media to develop relationships with prominent American news organizations.

China Daily’s foreign disclosures demonstrate these efforts to inveigle foreign interests with U.S. audiences in recent years. Since 2020, China Daily has expensed more than $7.7 million to news publishers. Those outlets include but aren’t limited to USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, and the Boston Globe.

Among the long list of opponents to the JCPA’s inclusion in the NDAA was a broad-based, bipartisan coalition of 25+ groups, including Re:Create, ranging from consumer advocacy groups and public interest organizations to religious groups and independent publishers. In a letter penned to House and Senate leaders, they urged Congress to exclude the JCPA from must-pass legislation like the NDAA. 

To date, Congress has heeded the warning. But at the same time, JCPA lobbyists are working overtime to pass a law in Canada that would have a similar impact – forcing the transfer of $329 million annually from the U.S. to foreign publishers, damaging the ability of platforms to remove foreign propaganda, and exempting Chinese firms like TikTok from the scope. The groundswell of concern on these issues in the U.S. should cause Canada and other governments to rethink their approaches and grapple with the substantive concerns being raised about their versions of the JCPA. The reality is, that the JCPA and these other foreign measures will damage security, damage the interests of users in accessing relevant information, and do more harm than good to publishers.