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Douglas Schoen: Americans are united in wanting Congress to rein in Big Tech’s power over news publishing

OPED-BIGTECH-NEWS-COMMENTARY-GET
A man walks past a Washington Post newspaper box, center, beside the empty box of competitor Washington Times, second from left, outside the Washington Post Aug. 5, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/TNS
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Thousands of local papers have shuttered their doors in recent years, and those surviving are facing unprecedented challenges in remaining both economically viable and as the lifeblood of their communities.

All the while, Big Tech monopolies like Alphabet and Meta — through sites like Google News and Facebook News — have come to dominate the news and publishing industries by expropriating the work of smaller and local operators via their news aggregator sites.

The Founding Fathers enshrined protections for a press free from government regulation in the First Amendment to the Constitution because a free and diverse press is the backbone of a healthy and vibrant republic. But the Founders could not have envisioned a future in which nearly all news and information would be controlled by just a handful of private entities.

This is not only blatantly unfair — it is a threat to the free press and, thus, to democracy itself.

The American people not only understand the severity of this threat, but moreover, are united on the need to curb Big Tech’s undue power and unjust profiteering in the news and publishing industries.

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New polling by Schoen-Cooperman Research — which was conducted among a representative sample of U.S. adults, and commissioned by News Media Alliance — reveals widespread public concern over Big Tech’s outsize influence with respect to news and publishing, as well as broad-based support for Congress taking action to rein in these monopolies.

Indeed, roughly 4 in 5 Americans are concerned that Big Tech companies have too much power over the news and publishing industries (79%), manipulate these industries for their own gain (78%), and are driving small and local news outlets out of business (76%).

Further, approximately three-quarters agree that “Big Tech’s monopoly over the news and publishing industries is a threat to the free press and unfair to publishers, especially to small and local outlets” (76%).

In addition to being broadly concerned about this problem, Americans want change and are looking to their elected leaders in Washington to deliver.

Roughly 4 in 5 Americans agree with statements to this effect, including “I support Congress taking steps to give small and local publishers more power in negotiations with Big Tech companies” (81%), as well as “Congress needs to rein in Big Tech by passing reforms that would make the publishing industry fairer for smaller media entities and local operators” (77%).

In terms of specific reforms, our survey measured public support for a bill that was introduced this year known as the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, or JCPA. This is a bipartisan proposal that would allow news publishers to negotiate, under the authority of a federal intermediary, fair terms for use of their content by Big Tech companies.

Remarkably, after reading a brief description of the JCPA, strong majorities support Congress passing the JCPA (70%) and believe it is important for Congress to pass the JCPA (64%).

Respondents also indicated that a political candidate’s support for the JCPA — or lack thereof — would affect their vote in an election. By a 4-to-1 margin, U.S. adults would be more likely, rather than less likely, to back a candidate for Congress who supported the JCPA.

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Additionally, 7 in 10 agree that “elected officials who oppose the JCPA are allowing Big Tech companies to continue manipulating the news and publishing industries for their own gain, leaving small and local publishers powerless” (69%).

In addition to being supportive of the JCPA, the public broadly favors general reforms to this effect. Strong majorities support Congress passing laws that would allow news publishers to band together to collectively negotiate fairer terms for use of content by Big Tech (71%) and increase regulations on Big Tech to curb their power over the news and publishing industries (57%).

And by roughly a 3-to-1 margin, Americans would be more likely, rather than less likely, to back political candidates who support both reforms.

Over the last two decades, though the world of news and information has changed dramatically with the expansion of Big Tech, the United States’ antitrust and anti-monopoly laws have not changed with it.

Congress now has a mandate from the American public to rein in Big Tech and pursue long-overdue reforms that will safeguard local journalism’s survival — and ultimately will make the news industry fairer, freer and more democratic.

On a personal note, in my experience as a professional pollster who has worked in the industry for more than 40 years, it is rare for an issue or piece of legislation to garner this level of broad-based and enthusiastic public support.

Elected officials from both parties have a unique opportunity to deliver on reforms that are both substantively important and politically viable — by advancing the JCPA or a similar version of the bill — which our data indicates would have a demonstrably positive electoral impact for these members.

If America is to have a news industry that is truly free and fair, we must stop allowing Big Tech companies to expropriate the work of smaller and local publishers without consequence. Congress can start by passing legislation like the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act into law.

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Douglas Schoen is a Democratic campaign consultant and author of several books including “The Power of the Vote: Electing Presidents.”

©2022 Chicago Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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