ANTITRUST CARVE-OUT? Big Media ‘Cartel’ Bill Passes Senate Committee After Initial Barrier

September 23rd, 2022 4:01 PM

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday cleared a Big Media “cartel” bill that would protect certain news outlets that band together to negotiate payment terms with tech platforms from antitrust enforcement.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) passed 15-7 as the committee adopted an anti-censorship amendment proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The bill itself, which now goes to the full Senate for approval, would create a four-year safe harbor from antitrust laws for print, broadcast and digital news companies to allow news outlets to jointly negotiate payment terms for content distribution on social media.

In a statement Thursday, Cruz’s office made the case that the amendment he secured creates a fairer Big Tech environment because it limits the bill’s antitrust exemption to price discussions between media groups and tech companies. The amended bill also now explicitly excludes “content moderation” – or censorship – agreements between media groups and tech companies from antitrust exemptions. Two weeks ago, Cruz secured an amendment that terminated the original version of the legislation.

All seven senators who voted against the bill were Republican.

Sen. Mike Lee (UT) was one of those Republicans.

Even in its amended form, the legislation wrongly seeks to “improve competition” through the formation of Big Media-Big Tech “cartels,” something that U.S. antitrust laws strictly prohibit via enforcement of criminal penalties, he said during a Thursday executive business meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill “links the financial incentives of Big Tech platforms and the news industry by requiring tech platforms to share their monopoly rents with the news industry, making news publishers more dependent on Big Tech, not less,” Lee said.

Lee continued: “If we do it for this industry, why wouldn’t we do it for others? Before long, you can imagine Congress engaging in other uncomfortably close relationships with other industries.”

In Sept. 6 comments to the committee, former Vice President for Media Research Center Free Speech America and MRC Business Dan Gainor wrote that one false premise underlying the bill is that it will prompt Big Tech to treat conservative media in a content neutral way.

“That is false and any parts of the bill that are vague would be used against the right,” Gainor wrote. “It is great to say Big Tech can’t discriminate based on content type, but they do and they will. Nothing in this bill stops them. And given the ongoing struggles between so-called fact-checkers and the conservative movement, no bill should include any reliance on those biased organizations.”

Gainor testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee about the original version of the JCPA in February.

Introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the companion House version of the JCPA has sat pending in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law since May 2021.

Conservatives are under attack. Contact your local representative and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment.