WASHINGTON -- The News Media Alliance is scoring some legislative points against the much bigger K Street players Google and Facebook with a bipartisan Senate bill unveiled Monday evening that would temporarily exempt publishers from antitrust laws.
The measure -- sponsored by Louisiana Republican John Kennedy and Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar -- would free up news publishers to jointly bargain with big technology companies in a quest for a bigger slice of digital revenue. It's the companion to a House bill that Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline and Georgia Republican Doug Collins introduced this spring.
"At the heart of this bill is helping newspapers survive amid shrinking circulations and massive layoffs," Kennedy said in a statement. "Google and Facebook now control the news kingdom. They've pitted themselves against newspapers in a David-and-Goliath battle in which newspapers don't have a stone to throw much less a slingshot to put it in. The readers are the true losers as newsrooms empty out across this country. Google and Facebook aren't just companies. They're countries. We can't allow them to bully newspapers out of business."
Klobuchar added that "without honest and trusted journalists reporting around the world and here at home, what is out of sight truly becomes out of mind -- but we're seeing more and more independent and local news outlets close as 'fake news' rises. It's more important than ever that we protect the free press and establish an even playing field for negotiation with online platforms. Our bipartisan legislation will improve the quality and accessibility of reporting and ensure that journalists are able to continue their critical work."
Though the news publishers lobby faces major hurdles to turning the legislation into law, the effort is part of a larger campaign to make the group, known until 2016 as the Newspaper Association of America, relevant in an age when most people get their news on screens, not on newsprint.
David Chavern, a longtime K Street insider formerly with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, took over the group in late 2015 and has set about a transformation.
"I have worked hard to basically change everything about the organization that can be changed and to reorient it to really try to fight for a digital future for news publishing," Chavern said. "We're going to need a better deal from the platforms if we hope to survive."
The platforms are primarily Google, Facebook and other big technology companies.
If lobbying revenue is any indication, it's an unfair fight.
The News Media Alliance reported spending about $385,000 on federal lobbying during the first three months of this year, while Google and Facebook both disclosed shelling out nearly $3.4 million in the same period. In all of last year, the alliance spent $1.8 million on federal lobbying, according to congressional lobbying disclosures. Google reported $21.2 million for 2018, while Facebook dished out $12.6 million.