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Senate Democrats Pull Journalism-Big Tech Revenue Negotiation Bill After Committee Adopts Cruz Amendment


A proposed bill to allow news organizations to negotiate content distribution rights with social media companies hit a roadblock last week in the U.S. Senate when an amendment by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was adopted by the Judiciary Committee.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, would allow news companies to collectively bargain with social media entities over how their content may be distributed and at what price. As of now, that would run afoul of antitrust laws; the new bill would suspend that prohibition in this instance for a four-year period.

The intent of the bill is to enable news outlets with fewer than 1,500 employees to ensure compensation for the content they produce.

Cruz’s amendment tacked on language that prohibits content moderation policies from being discussed in these negotiations, an attempt to prevent social media companies from dictating what news companies publish.

“I would like to see our local media expand and proliferate…but I am not at all convinced this bill will solve the problem it is intending to solve, and I have at least some concern this bill may exacerbate the problems,” Cruz said in the committee hearing.

“I think the single greatest threat to free speech is not even the market power of Big Tech, but it is the wanton abuse of power and blatant censorship from Big Tech.”

Summarizing his amendment, Cruz said that during these discussions, “The topic of discussion when the two sides get together can’t be censorship, it should be ad revenues.”

Violation of that provision would nullify the antitrust moratorium and render the negotiation illegal.

During discussion of the amendment, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), one of the Republicans working on the bill’s negotiations, said, “This amendment is making explicit what I thought was implicit — if I’m wrong about that, please let me know.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) objected to the amendment, stating, “[The amendment] essentially gives platforms a get-out-of-jail-free card by presenting an obvious opportunity for gamesmanship in the negotiation.”

“Since news outlets depend on the antitrust exemption while the covered platforms do not,” she added, “the platforms could then raise content moderation at the first opportunity in an attempt to avoid the joint negotiations.”

The amendment passed 11 to 10 because Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) was out with COVID-19 and did not name a committee proxy — a mechanism implemented in Congress after the pandemic began.

“Senator Durbin, I don’t think we can support this bill anymore, so we’re going to have to hold off on it,” Klobuchar said after the amendment was adopted.

The bill was withdrawn to be brought up another time.

“What happened today was a huge victory for the First Amendment and free speech,” Cruz said in a statement after the fact. “Sadly, it is also a case study in how much the Democrats love censorship. They would rather pull their bill entirely than advance it with my proposed protections for Americans from unfair online censorship.”

Censorship by social media and other technology entities has become a hot topic over the last few years. The Texas Legislature passed legislation last year aimed at prohibiting social media platforms from “censoring” individuals and the viewpoints they express — which is now the subject of a lawsuit by two tech-related trade associations.





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