Democrats positioned themselves as defenders of democracy in Tuesday’s election.
They must follow through on this pledge in the final weeks of the current Congress, regardless of the midterm’s final tally.
Start by passing the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA).
The JCPA is needed to help sustain the local, free and independent press system that’s essential to an informed electorate and functional, lasting democracy.
Yes, that sounds highfalutin. But as shown by the midterm’s toxic politics, America and its democracy are threatened as the country loses local newspapers and the civic knowledge, engagement and community they build.
A fourth of local newspapers failed and most survivors are hollowed-out ghosts, as 70% of newspaper jobs were lost over the last 15 years.
Thousands of communities are left with little to no local news coverage to inform voters and hold officials accountable.
As a result, America is less united, less able to agree on facts and values, and less able to discuss and confront shared challenges. We’re more divided and more vulnerable to cons, deceit and manipulation.
The journalism crisis underlies all the other threats to democracy, including election subversion, voting restrictions and false information stoking discord and distrust in democratic institutions. They cannot be resolved without first saving the press.
This is not news to many elected officials. A strong bipartisan coalition supports passage of the JCPA, which would stabilize news outlets by enabling them to collectively bargain with dominant tech platforms.
As the news business evolves online, it must be able to secure fair compensation for its content, just as digital music, movies and books are able to do, thanks to federal policies.
Tech giants and their allies, including academics and trade groups they fund, are sowing doubt and fear.
But there’s clear and undeniable evidence that the JCPA is an elegant, market-based solution that works without requiring federal dollars: The approach was trialed and proven in Australia. More than 90% of its news outlets secured content agreements, preventing further closures and enabling newsrooms to hire again.
Indeed, Australia is one of several free countries pursuing JCPA-type policies because they know their press systems must be saved to preserve their democracies.
In the United States, the onus is on Democratic leadership, namely Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to make sure the JCPA gets done and isn’t pushed down the list of things to do before the lame-duck session ends.
Washington state’s delegation has been a strong, bipartisan supporter of local journalism. Members should join U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal in sponsoring the JCPA.
It would be a great tragedy if the U.S. allowed its model democracy to further deteriorate, because Congress didn’t make the JCPA and an informed electorate a top priority.
Failing to support and pass this bill wouldn’t be an oversight. It would be a decision to side with two wealthy companies, Google and Facebook parent Meta, that allegedly violated antitrust law and were found by Democrat-led investigations to be causing harm with anti-competitive business practices.
President Joe Biden is reportedly pushing to pass antitrust reforms during the lame-duck session. The JCPA is the simplest and least controversial of the queued up antitrust bills. Get it done first.
If the JCPA dies, voters in future elections will question those who vowed to defend democracy and rein in Big Tech.
That is, if voters have any idea what’s really happening in 2023 and 2024.
Without federal intervention, the rate of newspaper failures is expected to increase to three per week on average, leaving ever more Americans in the dark.
With fascism rising on a flood of misinformation, the nation and the free world need Congress to quickly shore up the foundations of democracy. It should start by passing the JCPA before it’s too late to make a difference.