What is the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act?

Despite its name, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, S. 673, does not stimulate competition among the biggest media corporations and fails to preserve local news jobs. In reality, the bill will exacerbate existing challenges from media consolidation, deter journalist hiring and overhaul copyright law to disrupt access to information online.

The legislation’s stated purpose is to give local news publishers the ability to engage in collective bargaining with tech platforms, allowing them to demand compensation for their news content. And the devil is in the details.

At a glance, the legislation:

  • Establishes a new, unconstitutional “access right” to links and snippets and allows media companies to form cartels to force online services to pay for and carry this content.
  • Defines “news publishers” so that almost any outlet, broadcast station or blog can join or form one of these groups. This includes extremist, gossip, fashion, entertainment and sports news or blogs supported by a non-profit along with massive media corporations backed by hedge funds and investment firms.
  • Will chill investments in journalism and jobs for reporters by capping a publisher’s eligibility for tech payouts at 1,500 full-time employees.
  • Gives media companies control over the flow of information online and structures negotiation and arbitration discussions so they do not reflect the value that online services provide to consumers or media companies.
  • Will make it harder for platforms to moderate harmful content or to make updates to the services that are more useful for consumers, under the non-discrimination and retaliation requirements.

Digging in deeper, the significant problems with the JCPA only become more apparent.

Violates The First Amendment
Under the JCPA, the government would force websites to carry third-party content, which is a direct violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of speech. It also requires them to pay, which is also a First Amendment freedom of speech violation. Furthermore, the JCPA also gives the government the right to define what qualifies as news. This represents an exploitable opportunity that can shift with prevailing political winds while also infringing on the First Amendment right to freedom of the press.

Distorts Access To Information
The JCPA would force online services to pay for third-party links and snippets. Consumers use the internet to find and share information related to news and the world around them. By making it more difficult and more expensive to provide access to or allow consumers to share links and snippets of news content, the JCPA will harm consumers.

Overhauls Copyright Law & Dismantles The Open Internet
By giving publishers the ability to negotiate with tech platforms over access to news content, the JCPA decrees that links and snippets have special access rights. Links are ubiquitous across the internet and are not copyrightable. If platforms have to license content via links and snippets, this undermines copyright law and initiates a complete overhaul of the open internet and fair use.

Exacerbates and Incentivizes Misinformation and Clickbait
As written, a wide range of news outlets, including InfoWars, TMZ and Occupy Democrats could be eligible for payouts from tech platforms. Topically, nothing is exempt under the JCPA. Everything from extreme political views, celebrity gossip, and fashion and sports news could qualify as coverage that must be paid for and shown to American users on tech platforms. Under the JCPA, tech platforms could face legal repercussions for removing misinformation or patently false information. So, rather than reducing the burgeoning issues of clickbait and misinformation in mass media, the JCPA would exacerbate their prevalence.

Discourages Hiring Full-Time Journalists
To receive tech payouts, a publisher must have less than 1,500 full-time employees. This further undermines the JCPA’s stated goals, because publishers are expressly discouraged from hiring more journalists. Even worse, if the JCPA passes, each newspaper over the arbitrary employee limit would be well compensated if enough staff are fired or converted to independent freelancers.

Accelerates Big Media’s Consolidation of Local News Outlets
The current media landscape is composed of several massive media corporations that have acquired thousands of local newspapers and newsroom jobs. After buying these papers up, the biggest news corporations like Alden Global Capital and Gannett, have subsequently fired journalists, shuttered newspapers, and merged resources and staffcausing the exact decline of local journalism that this bill is supposed to stem.

The mandated tech payments would now go to these media corporations, without holding them accountable for how the money is spent or requiring that funds support journalists. The JCPA functions as a government directive to unjustly transfer funds from tech platforms and reward news corporations that have intentionally divested from journalism for years. This effectively sets up media conglomerates as the biggest JCPA beneficiaries and provides a government stamp of approval for business practices that have precipitated the decline in local journalism.

Rewards Hedge Funds and Big Media for Destroying Local Journalism
News conglomerates like Alden Global Capital and Gannett are utilizing every strategy at their disposal to get this legislation passed. Tactics once thought of as outside the bounds of ethical news standards, like pressuring papers they own to publish editorials and op-eds supporting their position, are now consistently being deployed. The JCPA’s passage would produce a financial boon and an affirmation of credibility for crudely managed hedge funds and extremist media organizations, regardless of news quality, labor practices or editorial integrity.