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Journalism bill won’t be included in defense spending measure

(Photo by Chris Jantsch, Wikimedia Commons; Graphic by The Desk)

A proposed measure that would have allowed news publishers and content creators to tax Facebook, Google and other large technology firms for the privilege of linking to their webpages was abruptly left out of a defense spending bill being weighed by federal lawmakers this week.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) was considered for inclusion as a so-called “rider” in the proposed National Defense Authorization Act for next fiscal year, though it wasn’t entirely clear how funding journalism at the expense of technology companies contributed to the national defense initiatives.

Ultimately, what convinced lawmakers to drop the JCPA from inclusion in the defense spending bill were objections raised by Facebook and other tech firms that colored the proposal as a way to subsidize the failed business strategies of some news publishers — mostly corporate-owned newspapers — whose revenues have declined as marketing dollars move toward better online advertising products.

The JCPA found support from a number of news publishers and public interest groups who accused Facebook, Google and other firms of profiting from the content that their local reporters, photographers and editors produce. The proposal would have allowed news publishers and other content creators to impose fees against Facebook and Google for the privilege of linking to news articles, among other ordinary online behavior.

The proposal was criticized by Facebook executives as an “ill-conceived” measure that would do more harm than good. If the measure passed, Facebook said it would strongly consider removing all news content from its platform. Facebook is the biggest driver of online traffic for most news publishers.

Consumer advocacy groups also warned that if the JCPA became law, extortion by news publishers could convince other social media platforms and web services to stop linking to fact-based news content, the byproduct of which would be an environment where harmful misinformation could flourish. A letter signed by more than two dozen consumer organizations also noted that the JCPA did not require money obtained from technology companies to be paid directly to journalists, suggesting the funds could instead flow to the corporate owners of newspapers and media companies, some of which are large Wall Street investment firms.

Some news publishers have been equal critics of the bill, including writers at TechDirt, a website that covers technology-related business and policy.

“The whole thing stinks of corruption,” Mike Masnick, the founder and chief editor of TechDirt, wrote in a recent column. “Politicians often rely on local newspapers for endorsements to win re-election campaigns, so they want to keep local papers happy. And it’s the perfect kind of corrupt handout for Congress. It’s not even using ‘taxpayer’ funds — it’s forcing other companies — the hated internet companies — to foot the bill.”

The decision to exclude the JCPA from the national defense spending bill doesn’t automatically kill the measure. But it is less likely to be considered, and even more unlikely to be voted on, during the current Congressional session, which ends in less than a month.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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