Censorship Concerns Derail Bipartisan Bill to Aid Local News (1)

  • Democrat’s absence clears path for Sen. Cruz amendment
  • Lawmakers say they’ll look for a path forward for the bill

(Updates with statements from senators.)

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Senate Republicans won support for changes to address their concerns about censorship risks in a bill to foster revenue-sharing between technology companies and local news, derailing a committee vote on the measure Thursday.

The Judiciary Committee delayed consideration of the legislation (S. 673), which seeks to empower small news outlets to negotiate compensation from tech titans such as Meta Platforms Inc.‘s Facebook and Alphabet Inc.‘s Google.

Panel leaders postponed the vote after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) gained enough support for an amendment he said would prevent big tech companies and media organizations from colluding to censor content they don’t like. Republicans have accused social media of censoring conservative viewpoints.

“This is a surprise. This was a long negotiated bill,” bill sponsor Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said after cosponsor Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) voted for Cruz’s amendment. “The agreement that we had has been blown up.”

Read more: Local News Would Get Help Against Big Tech in Revamped Bill

Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
A customer buys a newspaper at a newsstand on Dec. 7, 2020, in New York City.

The committee approved the amendment by a vote of 11-10, with the support of all panel Republicans. Democrats voted against the amendment, except Sen. Jon Ossoff (Ga.), whose proxy passed on casting a vote for him.

“Today we held over the bill in the Judiciary Committee in part because a colleague was out and we needed his vote on one amendment,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “I fully plan to move forward with the bill.”

The measure would offer a time-limited safe-harbor during which publishers could partner up to negotiate collectively with platforms without being liable under antitrust laws. Cruz said his amendment would ensure that content moderation can’t be a topic of conversation during that time.

Earlier: Extremism Concerns Raised Against Bill to Empower Local News

A lobbyist tracking the legislation said they see room for lawmakers to negotiate alternate language because neither side wants the legislation inadvertently to influence what kinds of content gets posted.

While Republicans worry about censorship, some Democrats are concerned the bill might get in the way of platforms removing disinformation and harmful content online.

“This bill is about protecting local journalism by leveling the playing field and allowing local news outlets to band together to negotiate for fair compensation from tech platforms,” Klobuchar’s statement said. “I am committed to targeted, bipartisan legislation to achieve this goal.”

An aide for Kennedy said the senator is open to improving the bill. Cruz said he also is open to negotiations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maria Curi in Washington at mcuri@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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