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JCPA: A Good Idea, Promoting a Stupid Behavior, Rolled into an Unrelated Bill

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The New York Times newsroom 1942.
The New York Times newsroom 1942.
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org), Author: Marjory Collins)
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It's never really news that the annual "National Defense Authorization Act" is bloated . The 2023 version comes to $858 billion which, probably ten times what's required to fund an actual "national defense" (as opposed to trying to maintain a sprawling global empire in terminal decline).

It's also never really news that various political factions slip non-"defense" priorities that can't pass on their own merits into the annual NDAA, which politicians describe as a "must-pass" bill. Hawks in Congress only get their billions in corporate welfare for "defense" contractors if they support unrelated add-ons.

This year, one major inclusion -- entirely unrelated to anything resembling "national defense" -- is the "Journalism Competition and Preservation Act." As is so often the case with legislative titles, it would accomplish exactly the opposite of encouraging competition or preserving journalism.

The core of the JCPA is an exemption to US antitrust law for news organizations. Put that way, I'm inclined to like it. Contra high school history/civics texts, antitrust law was invented by and for the benefit of large corporations, and has always functioned to reduce competition and jack up prices. But that's another story.

The intent of the JCPA is to "allow" media organizations to get together and create "joint negotiation entities" (the kind of cartel antitrust law forbids) to "collectively bargain" with digital platforms for compensation.

Compensation for what? Promoting and giving advertising to those same media organizations and their content.

The idea is that these cartels would have the "bargaining power" to bludgeon Google News, Facebook, et al. into paying news organizations for the privilege of linking and previewing content that sends readers or viewers to that content.

Imagine, for example, that every time your favorite news aggregator told you about a story carried by the New York Times, Fox News, or the Batesville, Mississippi Panolian, that aggregator had to fork some money over to the Big and Small News Organization Trust (which, hypothetically, those three organization belonged to).

That's like telling you that if you drive a Ford F-150, every time you cruise down the street and people see the Ford logo, especially if they ask you about it and you say "yeah, great truck, you should buy one," you'll have to pull out your wallet and hand a dollar to the Ford/GM/Chrysler Trust.

If the idea sounds monumentally stupid, well, it is.

For obvious reasons, companies like Facebook parent Meta are saying they may yank news links/previews from their platforms altogether if JCPA becomes law.

I'm all for news organizations being able to hit up platforms for payment. And for those platforms being able to say "no dice -- we can link for free or we won't link at all. We're helping you out here, take it or leave it."

Or, to put it a different way, I'm all for "allowing" news organizations to try something stupid and find out it doesn't work.

But Congress should vote on a "clean" bill repealing antitrust altogether instead of slipping one exemption into an unrelated piece of legislation.

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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