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Congress drops media bargaining bill amid Facebook, industry blowback

Facebook threatened to block news in the U.S. over the measure, which was under consideration as part of a defense package

Facebook said it would “consider removing news from our platform” if lawmakers moved ahead with the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, a threat that publisher groups denounced. (Thomas White/Reuters)

Lawmakers on Tuesday ended what had been an effort to allow media organizations to band together to negotiate revenue sharing deals with tech giants, leaving the provisions out of a massive spending bill amid intense pushback from industry and advocacy groups.

The measure, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), was omitted from a bicameral agreement on Congress’s sprawling defense-spending legislation, according to the bill’s text released late Tuesday. The JCPA provisions had been considered for potential inclusion, according to two people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.

The move came a day after Facebook said it would “consider removing news from our platform” if lawmakers moved ahead with the measure, a threat that publisher groups denounced.

The proposal would have created a temporary carve-out in antitrust law allowing news publishers and broadcasters to collectively push for more favorable distribution terms for their content online.

The effort, led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), had been billed by its proponents as a temporary lifeline for reeling news publications whose advertising revenue has plummeted over the past decade amid rapid growth of digital ad titans Google and Facebook.

“Continually allowing the big tech companies to dominate policy decisions in Washington is no longer a viable option when it comes to news compensation, consumer and privacy rights, or the online marketplace.” Klobuchar said in a statement Wednesday after the defense bill was released. “We must get this done.”

Andy Stone, a spokesman for Facebook parent Meta, blasted the bill Monday as “ill-conceived” and said the company would rather scrub news from its products than “submit to government mandated-negotiations that unfairly disregard any value we provide to news outlets.” The remarks echoed warnings the giant issued against similar regulations globally, including a high-profile bout in Australia.

NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, two trade groups that count Google, Meta and Amazon as members, on Monday announced that they were taking out six-figure ad buys online and in broadcast to oppose the legislation amid reports that it was under discussion. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

A slew of consumer advocacy groups and think tanks had also lined up against the measure, arguing in a letter Monday that it could force tech platforms to carry extreme or harmful content and that it would disproportionately benefit large media conglomerates.

Klobuchar disputed those criticisms in an interview this year, saying smaller publishers would get a seat at the table in the discussions.

“I know the small newspapers in my state are huge fans of this bill,” she told The Washington Post. “I think that what this does is allow for the potential that content is going to be paid for appropriately and that journalists’ work will be compensated for instead of stolen.”

The bill had been endorsed by numerous media organizations, including trade groups like the News Media Alliance, newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, broadcast giants including the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp. and conservative digital outlets like the Daily Caller.

The Post is a member of the News Media Alliance (NMA). Shani George, a spokesperson for The Post, previously said in an email that The Post is “aware of [NMA’s] efforts around this legislation and we have not taken a public stance.”

The bill split progressives and conservatives alike, forming unlikely alliances on both sides of a years-long political fight over the future of news online. Critics on the left say it could force tech companies to take a more hands-off approach to content moderation, and critics on the right say it could enable major news outlets to “collude” with the tech giants to silence conservatives.

Meta’s threat followed a familiar playbook for the giant, which last year blocked news in Australia in response to similar legislation aimed at forcing tech companies to pay publishers for content. The company issued the same warning last month in response to parallel efforts in Canada.

The U.S. push came as broader efforts to rein in the tech giants over allegations of anti-competitive conduct have stalled in Congress, with time ticking away in its legislative session.

Tony Romm contributed to this report.

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