A bill that would allow most news outlets to negotiate compensation for distributing their content together with dominant technology platforms was released Thursday from a Senate committee after Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) signed a deal had completed.
The Journalist Competition and Protection Act is intended to help local and smaller news outlets negotiate by leveling the playing field with tech giants such as Google and Facebook.
Thursday’s vote to further develop the bill followed two weeks of negotiations between Klobuchar and Cruz after the Democrat voted on her bill at a premium earlier this month.
The bill was drafted after an amendment from Cruz to moderate content was passed when Democrats had knocked down a member with Senator Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) who was isolating in India with COVID-19.
“Platforms like Facebook and Google are counting on Republicans and Democrats not to put aside their differences in order to agree on sensible laws in the technology sector. This is our moment to prove they’re wrong,” Klobuchar said at Thursday’s vote.
The bill was tabled with 15-7 votes, with seven Republicans voting against the bipartisan amendment.
The bill provides eligible digital journalism providers, including most editorial offices, which employ fewer than 1,500 full-time employees, a limited safe haven from federal and state antitrust laws that would allow them to participate in joint negotiations. The staff cap is largely aimed at excluding the country’s three largest newspapers and national broadcasters.
Cruz first presented an amendment aimed at lifting the antitrust exemption when one of the negotiating sites mentions content moderation, which was based on allegations that tech giants were censoring conservative content.
Klobuchar said, however, that the change would essentially give technology platforms a “Get out of Jail Free Card,” by allowing them to address content moderation at the start of a negotiation to avoid reaching an agreement.
The amended version, which was passed on Thursday, includes a text that states that negotiations should be conducted “exclusively to reach an agreement on prices and terms” and should not address how platforms display, rate, or distribute content.
“I think this amendment protects this antitrust liability from being used as a shield against censorship,” Cruz said.
“Big tech hates this calculation. For me, this is a strong positive for the support,” he added.
Tech industry groups have strongly opposed the bill, arguing it would create a media cartel.
Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said the bill “continues to be an unprecedented overrun by the government.”
“While objective journalism is critical to informing voters, involving federal regulators in private sector business negotiations, mandating the promotion of what the government considers “news,” and promoting cartels is an irresponsible way, to promote independent and robust news media,” he said in a statement.
The bill is one of several that Klobuchar wants to push for a vote aimed at tech giants this year.
It has called for a vote on its American Online Innovation and Choice Act and its Open App Markets Act, which aim to curb the power of dominant technology platforms. Both bills were passed with cross-party support from the Senate Judiciary Committee but have yet to be asked to vote.