Opinion/Minow and Hadjipanteli: Congress must stop Big Tech’s threat to the press – The Providence Journal

Posted: January 14, 2022 at 8:39 pm

Martha Minow and Aris Hadjipanteli| Guest columnists

Martha Minow is 300thAnniversary University Professor at Harvard University and former dean of Harvard Law School.Aris Hadjipanteli is a second-year law student.

Democrats and Republicans agree on almost nothing, not even what to call the incident a year ago at the Capitol. Was it an insurrection or a protest? But they do agree that the technology business is failing both its users and to the media industry from which it pulls so much of its content without paying for it. Its time for Congress to turn this rare consensus into action by passing the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act(JCPA) to tackle some of the consequences of techs monopoly power.

As of 2018, Google and Facebook together had nearly four times as much revenue as the entirety of the U.S. news media (TV, print, and digital). They have only grown tremendously since then. When Google users read a news story, 65 percent do not click through to the news publishers websites. Google thus disconnects news content from its sources and leaves the journalists without compensation.

For publishers to continue investing in journalism, they need fair payment in return for the significantvalue that their content provides Google and Facebook. The demand for their content remains high news organizations reach more than 135 million U.S. adults each week yet revenue produced by U.S. news publications has dropped by more than 50 percent in recent years. Readers continue to be interested in news, but the money is going to digital platforms that dont produce it.

Is it any wonder that the U.S. is now witnessing a mass exodus of journalists? Newsrooms have lost 26 percent of their positions since 2008.Local news outlets have especially suffered. During the past 15 years, more than 1,800 local newspapers have closed.Again, thats not a function of consumer sentiment. The public trusts its local newspapers more than national ones: 73 percent of U.S adults surveyed said they have confidence in their local newspaper, compared to 55 percent for national network news. Surveys show that most Americans are unaware of this crisis in local journalism.

Facebook and Google have not just used their outsized role in mediating news consumption to squeeze out newspapers. They have also altered the media landscape. To propel their own goals of addicting users, they devalue high-quality journalism in favor of provocative content and click bait that capture attention by exploiting human frailties. Facebook, according to inside and outside reports, propels untrustworthy sources and misinformation.

Rep. David Cicilline, the Rhode Island Democrat who chairs the antitrust subcommittee in the House, designed the bipartisan JCPA to give publishers new tools to right the balance in the media marketplace while also ensuring government stays away from selecting or censoring content. The bill would dramatically improve journalism companies ability to negotiate fair compensation with Big Tech: It provides a narrow safe harbor from antitrust liability that would let news publishers collectively organize and negotiate with big tech companies for fair compensation for the use of their content.

The law would guard against leaving out any news provider, regardless of size and regardless of viewpoint. And the law would ensure the big platform companies behave responsibly and bargain in good faith in part by prohibiting them from buying off individual publications at the expense of the larger group and in part through enforcing fair market value for the bargain. Equally important, the bill would ensure fair distribution of the resulting payments to small and medium sized papers.

The U.S. Constitution mentions only one private industry by name and does so to provide it explicit constitutional protection. That one industry is the press, so central to informing the electorate and allowing all residents to gain information needed for their health and welfare. The Constitution also authorizes Congress to act to advance the general welfare.

Big Tech threatens the general welfare by eviscerating the press. At this point, the power and responsibility fall both to Congress and to its bosses we, the people. Lets hope that 2022 sees action to protect the press, fair competition, and democracy.

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Opinion/Minow and Hadjipanteli: Congress must stop Big Tech's threat to the press - The Providence Journal

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