Lawmakers Want to Protect Local Newspapers From Google, Facebook

Some Senate Democrats are seeking to empower regulators to protect local news outlets, accusing tech giants such as Google and Facebook of “unfair business practices,” according to a new report by members of a key committee that will hear from the top industry executives this week.

Released on the eve of the Senate Commerce Committee’s hearing Wednesday with the chief executives of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., the report argues that local journalism is in a crisis—badly exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic—partly because of alleged anticompetitive behavior on the part of the tech platforms that ought to be policed by the Federal Trade Commission.

The report also proposed a range of other legislative fixes, including a law that would force tech platforms to negotiate with local news outlets to ensure those organizations are paid for their content, in much the same way that local TV broadcasters are paid by cable and satellite companies for distributing their content.

Painting a grim portrait of the state of the local U.S. news industry, the report noted that it had lost 70% of its revenue in the past two decades, while today Google and Facebook control 77% of local digital ad revenue.

“They are facing unfair practices,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), the ranking member on the committee, said in an interview. “We think Congress and the FTC should address those unfair practices.”

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